Comments to the U.S. State Department on Draft Guidance for the Export of Surveillance Technology

Daniel Castro Alan McQuinn October 2, 2019
October 2, 2019

ITIF has submitted comments in response to the U.S. State Department regarding its draft guidance for the export of surveillance technology. While ITIF supports the U.S. Department of State’s goal of providing voluntary guidance to businesses to help them understand the human rights implications of exporting certain items with surveillance capabilities, the State Department should be careful that any guidance it offers does not negatively impact U.S. jobs or U.S. technological leadership.

First, the comments argue that the State Department should ensure its guidance does not unnecessarily restrict companies from exporting their products and services or harm the overall market for these products and services. The framing of the guidance in particular is troubling. For example, the use of the term “surveillance” has negative implications and is related more to how a product is used, rather than to the product itself.

In addition, the comments argue that the Department of State should provide additional resources to companies to make it easier for them to operationalize this guidance. This approach will allow many companies, which do not have the capabilities, to properly evaluate whether a government agency in a target export country is likely to use a product to violate human rights.

Moreover, the comments recommend the State Department adopt a process by which a company can determine that a particular export is reasonable, as well as provide a representative list of scenarios, detailing examples of products and countries, where the guidance would recommend a company not export. This approach will incentivize companies to adopt this guidance by creating a process that not only helps companies properly consider important questions about exports, but also allows them to demonstrate to the public that they have sufficiently addresses concerns about human rights.   

Finally, the comments offer several proposed edits to the draft guidance.