Uproar over Wassenaar followed by GAO report on surveillance tech sales to Iran

The GAO published a report of companies selling surveillance technologies to Iran.
The GAO published a report of companies selling surveillance technologies to Iran.

On the heels of Tuesday's Congressional uproar over the Commerce Department's proposed changes to the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Government Accountability Office published a report of companies selling surveillance technologies to Iran, against a longstanding ban on the sale of such technologies to the Iranian government.

The report, after investigating open sources published between December 2014 and December 2015, did not identify any companies that engage in the sale of these technologies. The U.S. banned exports of these technologies to Iran's government after the Wall Street Journal reported in June 2009 that Nokia Siemens Networks sold equipment to Iran that its government used for surveillance and suppression of communications of its population.

The report noted that its research may have been limited because some of the technologies that can be used “to disrupt the free flow of information and communication” are dual-use products, also used for filtering pornography, for example.

The debate over dual-use products was re-ignited Tuesday, as House representatives and private sector executives expressed frustration over the Commerce Department's proposed changes to the Wassenaar Arrangement.

Prior to the hearing before subcommittees of the House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees, Representatives Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) sent a letter signed by 125 bipartisan Members of Congress, asking President Obama's National Security Advisor Ambassador Susan Rice to encourage the administration to narrow the scope of the proposed changes to the Wassenaar Arrangement. The letter warned that the proposed changes “could have a chilling effect on research, slowing the discovery and disclosure of vulnerabilities and impeding our nation's cybersecurity.”

“This proposed rule – and perhaps the underlying agreement itself – would have significant unintended consequences for security researchers, cybersecurity providers, and our overall cyber posture,” wrote Langevin and McCaul, in a statement. “As reports emerge that the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce share our concerns, I hope that this bipartisan message from the House of Representatives will spur the rest of the Administration to right the ship.”

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