Stephen Harper and the planned sale of surveillance technology to the United Arab Emirates

Face recognition, recognition of meetings, access to all information in real time: these are some of the Israeli technologies that the investment company AWZ Ventures is funding and that it now wants to offer to the United Arab Emirates.

It’s a decision denounced by cybertechnology and human rights experts from Canada, the UK and Israel.

Stephen Harper plays a key role in this firm, which according to its website invests in 18 Israeli cybersecurity companies.

He is not only a partner, but also chairman of the advisory committee, which includes former members of the Mossad and other intelligence services, mainly from Israel and the USA.

A group of people in a parking lot.

The Israeli company viisights, funded by AWZ Ventures, has developed a system for detecting behavior such as crowds.

Photo: Vimeo

Offices in Abu Dhabi

AWZ Ventures is in the process of establishing a subsidiary in the United Arab Emirates. The company has already hired a General Manager for this subsidiary of AWZ Horizons, which will be established in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates.

Katherine Verrier-Fréchette, a former Canadian diplomat in the Middle East, has held the position full-time since February 2021, according to her Linkedin account. Based in the Emirates, she is also responsible for facilitating the sale of cybersecurity technologies to other countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and to countries in North Africa.

Katherine Verrier-Frechette and Azzam Shawwa.

Katherine Verrier-Fréchette was Canada’s representative to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank at the time of this photo’s publication in 2016. She is now Managing Director of Operations for AWZ Ventures in the United Arab Emirates.

Photo: Palestinian Monetary Authority

The sale of cyber surveillance technology to a country like the UAE is fundamentally problematic from a human rights perspectivesays Siena Anstis, senior legal counsel at Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto lab that studies cyber threats.

AWZ Ventures defends its decision to do business with the Emirates.

In an email sent in response to questions from Radio-Canada, its co-founder and spokesperson Yaron Ashkenazi claims the company is investing in defensive security technologies designed so that they cannot be circumvented or reverse engineered for malicious purposes.

He says the company is working closely with him its portfolio companies to ensure they adhere to the highest ethical and regulatory investment standards in Canada and the other markets in which we operate.

Masked people with the message

Corsight, an AWZ VENTURES portfolio company, has developed facial recognition technology that can identify people even if they are wearing a mask.

Photo: Youtube/Corsight

It’s very, very dangerous, says Etay Mack, an Israeli human rights lawyer and an expert on Israeli arms export laws. The UAE has been shown to use this type of technology to control its people and block democratic reforms, he recalls.

Mack finds it unfortunate that former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been implicated in selling surveillance technology to such a regime.

I believe he should have done better for humanity than to lend his name and reputation as Prime Minister of Canada [à ce projet]. This gives great legitimacy not only to the project, but also to human rights violations in the Emirates.he said.

Mr Harper and Ms Verrier-Fréchette did not respond to our request for comment. But Mr Ashkenazi says the business relationship between AWZ Ventures and the Emirates is fine in the spirit of the Abraham AccordsPeace treaties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries.

He also assures that his local staff will see to it Activities are ethical.

Canada and the United Arab Emirates have important trade and diplomatic ties and are part of common forums such as the Francophonie.

Stephen Harper and Mohammad bin ZayedEnlarge image (New window)

In April 2019, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and “his friend”, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, celebrate their birthdays in Abu Dhabi, which fall on the same day.

Photo: Twitter/@StephenHarper

Pegasus investigation

This summer, an international investigation by 17 news outlets revealed that the United Arab Emirates and other repressive countries were clients of the Israeli company NSO Group, makers of the Pegasus spyware that infiltrates smartphones without the knowledge of its users.

The list of potential targets included the phone numbers of political leaders, human rights activists and journalists around the world. The UAE has denied these allegations.

Citizen Lab previously uncovered the Emirates’ use of spyware against a human rights defender in the country, Ahmed Mansoor, who has been jailed since 2017.

Brigitte office

To convict him, the United Arab Emirates court invoked the Cybercrime Act, which considers the slightest criticism of authorities a crime. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, Mr. Mansoor’s email exchanges and WhatsApp conversations with human rights organizations were used against him.

Companies cannot claim ignorance. »

A quote from Siena Anstis, attorney for Citizen Lab

In the case of the United Arab Emirates, there are numerous public examples of the government using and abusing cyber-surveillance technology against human rights defenders and dissidents in violation of international law.says lawyer Siena Anstis.

Canadian regulations completely overwhelmed

In Canada, a company like AWZ Ventures does not require an export license to facilitate the sale of cybersecurity technology.

Only companies that facilitate the transportation of military equipment and products that can be used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction are required to obtain a broker license.

This system was completely frozen in the Cold War erasays Edin Omanovic of the UK-based organization Privacy International.

According to him, the controls in place in Canada and other countries mainly target conventional weapons and exclude several types of surveillance technologies.

Such controls are completely outdated and unable to address the human rights risks of these emerging industries.says Mr. Omanovic.

The Monitoring and Control Center of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development.

Video surveillance was implemented in all stores last year by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development in collaboration with the Monitoring and Control Center to ensure compliance with relevant health regulations related to COVID-19.

Photo: Twitter/Abu Dhabi Economic Development Department

In the case of AWZ Ventures, the companies that finance and manufacture the cyber technologies are Israeli and must obtain an export license from the Israeli government.

But the Canadian government still has its share of responsibility under international law, says lawyer Etay Mack.

Perhaps under the regulations in Canada and the regulations in Israel, only the Israeli companies that actually sell the devices have direct legal obligationssays Mr Mack. But the Canadian government should be accountable for how finance flows through Canadian companies and what impact it has on human rights.

Global Affairs Canada declined to comment on AWZ Ventures’ activities.

But in an email to Radio-Canada, the department responded Canada has one of the strongest export control systems in the world and respect for human rights is enshrined in our export control laws.

The ministry says some surveillance technologies require an export license, but confirms those that enable sale do not require a license.

Leave a Comment