Experts say that in Syria, Blue Coat’s tools have been used to censor Web sites and monitor the communications of dissidents, activists and journalists. In Iran and Sudan, it remains unclear exactly how the technologies are being used, but experts say the tools could empower repressive governments to spy on opponents.
“These devices are turning up in places they’re not supposed to be,” said Morgan Marquis-Boire, a project leader at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which detailed the findings in a new report provided to The Washington Post.
“The human rights implications of finding these surveillance technologies in these countries are extremely worrying. It’s a systemic problem.”
Blue Coat promotes itself as a leading provider of Web security and management. According to its Web site, it has 15,000 government and corporate customers worldwide. Its products, including high-end computer systems, are used for myriad purposes, including filtering for computer viruses and child pornography.
Some technology experts, however, have argued that because Blue Coat’s tools have various uses, they fall into regulatory gaps and are thus not subject to certain export restrictions.
“The only thing stopping the export of human-rights-abusing equipment to a country like Sudan is the blanket restriction on exports under the sanctions program,” said Collin Anderson, an independent consultant on the Blue Coat report, which is to be released Tuesday. “There are no controls in place right now on equipment that can also be used to violate human rights.”
David Murphy, Blue Coat’s chief operating officer and president, said the company takes reports about its products in countries under U.S. trade embargoes very seriously. The firm, he noted, is cooperating with a U.S. investigation into how a reseller managed to get the devices into Syria on a few occasions in 2010 and 2011.
“Blue Coat has never permitted the sale of our products to countries embargoed by the U.S.,” Murphy said. “We do not design our products, or condone their use, to suppress human rights. . . . Our products are not intended for surveillance purposes.”
A spokesman for the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces U.S. sanctions, declined to comment on the new allegations other than to say, “Treasury takes sanctions violations very seriously and has aggressively pursued enforcement actions where violations have occurred.”