May 26, 2023

Wyden Demands Answers About the International Trade Administration’s Promotion of Surveillance Technology to Foreign Markets and Governments

ITA Must be Transparent About Its Policy For Trade Promotion of Spying and Policing Technology

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called on the International Trade Administration (ITA) to answer questions about its promotion of dangerous surveillance technology in foreign markets, and explain what steps it is taking to prevent such technology sales from harming human rights. 

Wyden chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over international trade policy. He first requested information from ITA about its activity promoting the sale of surveillance technology abroad in May 2022. The agency informed Wyden’s office last year it had promoted the sale of surveillance technology, but declined to share which products it promoted, or which foreign markets it targeted. In March 2023 ITA informed Wyden’s office that it had issued a new policy to restrict promotion of surveillance products, but refused to share that policy without a formal letter. 

“As you know, the Biden Administration has recognized that surveillance technologies are frequently used by governments to invade the privacy of their citizens, enable violence and discrimination, and disproportionately harm marginalized and vulnerable communities,” Wyden wrote to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “Given the Administration’s stated interest in limiting the human rights abuses made possible by these technologies, ITA must be transparent about its past and current promotion of these technologies abroad.”

The ITA is a component of the Department of Commerce responsible for promoting the sale of American products and services in foreign countries. 

Wyden requested answers to the following questions: 

1. To what surveillance, policing, or public safety technology companies is ITA providing trade assistance, or has it in the last five years provided trade assistance, including companies selling any of the following technologies or services:

  • predictive policing systems, including any system that uses historical crime data and other data to suggest where to deploy law enforcement or military resources or to identify individuals likely to commit a crime;
  • biometric surveillance technologies, including facial, voice, iris, and gait recognition and analysis software;
  • high-altitude aerial surveillance systems;
  • international mobile subscriber identity catchers and other cell-site simulators;
  • software or hardware used to gain unauthorized access to a mobile phone, computer, computer service, or computer network;
  • databases containing sensitive personal information, including location data and web browsing records;
  • surveillance products that exploit vulnerabilities in SS7 and Diameter to remotely track phones, intercept text messages and calls, and deliver malware;
  • bulk internet monitoring technology; 
  • social media monitoring software, including any tools that facilitate the creation of false accounts, monitor lawful speech, or identify and physically locate specific users;
  • gunshot detection systems; and
  • data management systems that provide storage, integration, and analysis of data collected from surveillance technologies.

2. For each company ITA has worked with, what assistance is ITA offering, or has ITA offered in the last five years, including to which foreign markets and clients that assistance has been targeted?

3. What laws or rules, if any, limit the discretion with which ITA decides to assist companies in these sectors?  

4. What training do Commerce officials, including FCS officers, receive about surveillance, policing, and public safety technologies, including the dangers such technologies pose when used by foreign governments or in foreign markets where the risk of human rights violation is high?

5. Does ITA coordinate or seek the advice of other Commerce Department bureaus or Executive Branch agencies, including those with privacy or human rights expertise and responsibilities, before agreeing to work with specific companies or industry sectors?

The full letter is available here.


Press Contact: Keith Chu