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UK firm slammed for flogging spy software to Iran

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A senior lawmaker has called on the UK government to ban the export of British-made surveillance software to repressive regimes.

"I'm hoping for an open debate on whether or not the UK should be involved ... [and] what the implications of previous sales are," Lord David Alton of Liverpool told The Register.

Lord Alton has tabled six questions in the House of Lords for the UK government, which are due to be answered by 21 November.

He has asked why there is no existing export ban on UK-made software and equipment that "has been used to track down protesters and democracy activists in Iran". He has also asked the government if it has investigated "the alleged use of intercepts by mobile telephone monitoring devices manufactured in the UK in the interrogation and torture of Iranian democracy activists".

Lord Alton specifically names a company called Creativity Software in his questions, claiming that the firm has sold intercept software to Irancell, an Iranian telco. He wants the UK government to find out what has been sold to Irancell so far, what the value of those deals was and what other sales are pending. He also asked if "they intend to permit Creativity Software to continue providing British-made intercept software and equipment to Irancell".

Creativity Software was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

The company has allegedly sold their "lawful intercept" gear to Irancell, which, according to their website, "can provide an end-to-end or bespoke solution to enable exposure of location information to authorised agencies".

Foreign Secretary William Hague has been linked to Creativity Software, which would be particularly embarrassing for him given his stance on both Iran and internet freedoms.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, two executives from MMC Ventures, a shareholder in the software company, have funded Hague's private office.

The CEO Bruce Macfarlane and the chairman Alan Morgan – the report alleges – paid part of the salary of Chloe Dalton, a researcher for Hague between 2006 and 2009, before he became Foreign Secretary. They also allegedly contributed £25,000 to his private office.

Back in September, when a UK firm was accused of selling "cyber-spy" software to Egypt, Hague told the BBC that "any export of goods that could be used for internal repression is something we would want to stop".

More recently, Hague chaired the London Conference on Cyberspace, where he emphasised plenty of times that the UK believed in a free and open internet, and that countries who tried to impede access were infringing on human rights.

The Foreign Secretary is also well-known as a critic of Iran.

Today, the Foreign Office told The Register any questions on exports and licensing should be referred to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. A BIS spokesperson said in an emailed statement that "the government actively discourages all trade with Iran".

"We take any reports of exports being misused overseas seriously," they added.

Specifically in reference to Creativity Software, they said that "the type of software in question is not covered by an export control, and therefore it does not appear that the exporter has broken the law".

"However all export controls are kept under constant review and we will ensure that they are adequate in this area in line with international standards," they said.

More generally, Lord Alton, who is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, also asked the government what assessment it had made of whether British intercept equipment or surveillance tools was being used in political repression across the Middle East and North Africa. ®

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