Denmark's profile as a champion of freedom of speech may suffer a serious dent as the Nordic country was found to have sold surveillance equipment to authoritarian Gulf states in order to facilitate the monitoring of regime critics. This was done with the approval of Denmark's authorities.
Aalborg-based BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, which is a subsidiary of the UK arms giant BAE Systems, sold the advanced technology to the authoritarian Gulf states Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates with the consent from Danish authorities, the Danish newspaper Information reported.
The deal with the Saudis alone is estimated to be worth up to 70 million DKK ($10.1mln). Approval was given to the Danish firm despite EU rules forbidding the proliferation of European technology for oppression of citizens in countries it deems as dictatorships.
However, the controversial sale was approved by the Danish Business Authority, which is a government agency under the Finance Ministry. The formal approval opened the door for the company to supply equipment for IP surveillance and data analysis "for use in national security and the investigation of serious crimes." However, as Professor of Middle East Studies at the University Of Southern Denmark Helle Lykke Nielsen pointed out, the very same technology is certain to be used as a tool against local dissidents.
"Of course, the regimes will say that the equipment will be used to monitor terrorist activity and quench cybercrime. But in practice there's no doubt that it also will be used against ordinary people and regime critics," Helle Lykke Nielsen told the newspaper, venturing that there was virtually "no chance" that the relevant regimes would abstain from using the technology against the opposition.
According to senior researcher in mass surveillance Nicholas Weaver of the University of California, the Danish technology could potentially be used to monitor the internet activity of entire populations, including their web traffic and unencrypted emails.
Predictably, Denmark's sale was slammed by Human Rights NGO Amnesty International. The Gulf states all have laws criminalizing any criticism of the regimes. In Saudi Arabia, statements that "harm the reputation of the state" are defined as terrorism.
"If you can't reject Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive countries in the world, then it's hard to see who couldn't possibly get this kind of equipment," Amnesty International Denmark Secretary General Trine Christensen told Information.
The sale was also criticized by former Foreign Minister Holger Nielsen, who said it was "completely untenable" to sell surveillance equipment to dictatorial states that are known to be violating human rights "all the time." Nielsen also slammed the government for being too keen on doing business with Saudi Arabia.
"This shows complete and indiscriminate submission to Saudi Arabia. I think it's a mistake, because Saudi Arabia is one of the most terrible countries in the world," Holger Nielsen told Danish Radio.
The sale was approved shortly before a controversial and highly-criticized visit to Saudi Arabia by the Danish Royals. Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik's and Princess Mary's visit to the fundamentalist Mid-Eastern country, where women are not allowed to drive and where death sentences are distributed lavishly, was instantly labeled an "export promotion."