Stephen Harper involved in company looking to arrange sale of surveillance tech to UAE

Former prime minister Stephen Harper heads the advisory committee of a Toronto-based firm now seeking to facilitate the sale of cutting-edge surveillance know-how to the United Arab Emirates — a rustic with a troubling human rights file.

AWZ Ventures funds Israeli surveillance know-how programs, together with facial recognition and crowd detection programs and providers that ship complete data on people in actual time.

The prospect of such applied sciences being supplied to a rustic with a historical past of human rights abuses is being condemned by worldwide cyberthreat and human rights specialists in Canada, the U.Ok. and Israel.

Harper is a serious participant on this funding agency, serving as president of its advisory committee — which consists of former members of the Mossad and different Israeli and American intelligence companies, amongst others.

He’s additionally a enterprise accomplice with the agency, which has investments in 18 Israeli cybersecurity firms, in accordance with its web site.

Israeli tech firm viisights, which has obtained financing from AWZ Ventures, has developed real-time behavioural recognition programs to trace, amongst different issues, crowd gatherings. (Vimeo)

AWZ Ventures is within the means of incorporating a subsidiary within the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Former Canadian diplomat Katherine Verrier-Fréchette has been employed as managing director of this subsidiary, AWZ Horizons, which might be primarily based in Abu Dhabi, UAE’s capital.

Verrier-Fréchette has been working full time for AWZ since February 2021, in accordance with her Linkedin account.

She additionally has been tasked by AWZ with facilitating the sale of cybersecurity applied sciences to different international locations within the Center East, akin to Saudi Arabia, and international locations in North Africa.

Katherine Verrier-Fréchette was Canada’s consultant to the Palestinian Authority within the West Financial institution when this photograph of her with Governor of the Palestine Financial Authority Azzam Shawwa was revealed in 2016. (Palestine Financial Authority)

“The sale of cyber surveillance technologies to a country like the UAE is inherently problematic from a human rights perspective,” stated Siena Anstis, senior authorized adviser to Citizen Lab, a College of Toronto analysis physique centered on the research of digital threats.

AWZ Ventures defends its resolution to do enterprise with the United Arab Emirates.

In an e-mail in response to Radio-Canada’s questions, AWZ’s co-founder and spokesperson Yaron Ashkenazi stated the agency invests in “defensive security technologies which are designed so that they cannot be circumvented or reverse engineered for nefarious purposes.”

Ashkenazi stated his agency works “diligently” with its portfolio firms “to ensure they comply with the highest ethical and regulatory investment standards in Canada and other markets in which we operate.”

Israeli tech firm Corsight, an AWZ Ventures’ portfolio firm, has developed a real-time facial recognition system that may determine individuals even when their faces are partially coated by masks. (CORSIGHT/YouTube)

‘Very, very harmful’

However one Israeli human rights lawyer stated the UAE has used this sort of know-how to manage its inhabitants and block democratic reforms.

“It’s very, very dangerous,” stated Eitay Mack, who has been calling on Israel to be extra clear relating to defence exports.

He stated he finds it “very sad” {that a} former Canadian prime minister would affiliate himself with the sale of cyber-surveillance tech to the UAE.

“I think he should have done better things for humanity than to put his name and also his reputation as a Canadian prime minister (to this project),” stated Mack. “It gives big legitimation to not only this project but also to the human rights violations in the UAE.”

Harper and Verrier-Fréchette didn’t reply to Radio Canada/CBC’s request for feedback.

Ashkenazi stated the industrial relationship between AWZ Ventures and the UAE is being established “in the spirit of the Abraham Accords” — peace treaties between Israel, the UAE and different Arab international locations.

In April 2019, Stephen Harper tweeted a photograph of himself with the UAE Minister of International Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi celebrating their mutual birthday. (Twitter @stephenharper)

He added that his firm has personnel on the bottom “to ensure ethical operations.”

Canada and the UAE have sturdy diplomatic and commerce relations and share membership in worldwide organizations, akin to La Francophonie.

UAE accused of spying on journalists, activists

A world investigation led by 17 information companies revealed this summer season that the UAE and different repressive regimes have been shoppers of the Israeli NSO Group, the developer of the Pegasus spy ware, which will be put in covertly on cellphones.

The investigation recognized 1,000 telephone numbers of potential targets for the Pegasus spy ware, together with political leaders, human rights activists and journalists in lots of components of the world. The UAE has denied spying on these people.

Previously, Citizen Lab has reported that the UAE used spy ware towards one in all its human rights defenders, Emirati blogger Ahmed Mansoor, who has been imprisoned since 2017.

In convicting Mansoor, courts within the UAE primarily based their verdict on the Emirati cybercrimes legislation, which makes even the slightest criticism of authorities a legal offence. E-mail exchanges and WhatsApp conversations with representatives of human rights organizations have been used towards him at trial, in accordance with a Human Rights Watch report.

“Companies cannot plead ignorance,” stated lawyer Siena Anstis of Citizen Lab. “In the case of the UAE, there are multiple public examples of the government using and abusing cyber surveillance technology by deploying it against human rights actors and dissidents in violation of international human rights law.”

No export allow required

In Canada, an organization akin to AWZ Ventures doesn’t want an export allow to facilitate the sale of cybersecurity know-how.

Solely firms that facilitate the motion of navy tools, or objects that can be utilized to supply weapons of mass destruction, have to acquire a dealer allow.

“The regime governing this is totally stuck in the Cold War,” stated Edin Omanovic, advocacy director for the U.Ok.-based Privateness Worldwide, which advocates towards the usage of pervasive surveillance applied sciences.

Omanovic stated the controls in place in Canada and plenty of different international locations give attention to typical weapons, excluding many kinds of surveillance tech.

Video surveillance was put in in all shops final yr by the Abu Dhabi Division of Financial Growth and the Monitoring and Management Centre to make sure compliance with COVID-19 sanitary guidelines. (Twitter: Abu Dhabi Division of Financial Growth )

“Such controls are completely out of date and incapable of addressing the human rights risks posed by these emerging industries,” he stated.

The Israeli firms financed by AWZ Ventures which can be producing the cybersurveillance applied sciences have to acquire export permits from the Israeli authorities.

However the Canadian authorities nonetheless has a duty underneath worldwide legislation to make sure Canadian firms aren’t undermining human rights overseas, stated Mack.

“Maybe according to the regulations in Canada and the regulations in Israel, only the Israeli companies that actually sell the equipment have the direct legal obligations,” he stated. “But the Canadian government should be responsible for how finances are being transferred through Canadian companies and how it influences human rights.”

International Affairs Canada declined to touch upon AWZ Ventures’ enterprise dealings.

In an e-mail to Radio-Canada/CBC, nevertheless, the division stated that “Canada has one of the most rigorous export control systems in the world, and respect for human rights is enshrined in our export control legislation.”

The division additionally confirms that whereas some exports of cyber surveillance applied sciences require permits, firms that facilitate the sale of such applied sciences do not require authorization.