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    Protesters against Ben Ali's regime in 2011, in a country that used the technology. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 June 2017

Human rights groups have criticized the sales saying that it empowers these governments to quash dissent.

Britain’s biggest arms company has been secretly selling mass surveillance technologies to its allies in the Middle East who have been accused of being despotic and repressive, an investigation by the BBC revealed.

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BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, in recent years, sold the technology to the governments of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Morocco, which allows for mass spying of emails and phones.

The documents obtained by the BBC also reveal concerns by officials on the repercussions of the export of the technology, saying they could impact the security of Britain.

“You would be able to intercept any internet traffic. If you wanted to do a whole country, go ahead. You would probably need something to narrow your search down, either by a specific person, a specific email address, specific IP address or specific keywords to search for,” an anonymous source revealed to the BBC.

The outlet reported that it had located two men who operated the surveillance system in Tunisia during the dictatorship of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. That dictatorship saw many opponents imprisoned and tortured, before being overthrown in 2011.

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One of the men, who was employed to monitor Tunisia’s internet using the Evident system that was installed in the basement of one of Ben Ali’s houses, revealed, “The tool works with keywords. You put in an opponent’s name. You will see all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user.”

BAE has justified the sales by stating, “Our technology plays a crucial role in enabling the U.K. and its allies to combat the threat of international terrorism, supporting law enforcement and helping to keep the public safe, both in the U.K. and abroad.”

The U.K. government already sells arms to Saudi Arabia, which the country is accused of using for its U.S.-backed war in Yemen.

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