Senior executives at a French spyware firm have been indicted for the company’s sale of surveillance software to authoritarian regimes in Libya and Egypt that resulted in the torture and disappearance of dissidents.
While high-tech surveillance is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, it is rare for companies or individuals to face legal consequences for selling such technologies—even to notorious dictatorships or other dangerous regimes. But charges in the Paris Judicial Court against leaders at Amesys, a surveillance company that later changed its name to Nexa Technology, claim that the sales to Libya and Egypt over the last decade led to the crushing of opposition, torture of dissidents, and other human rights abuses.
The former head of Amesys, Philippe Vannier, and three current and former executives at Nexa technologies were indicted for “complicity in acts of torture” for selling spy technology to the Libyan regime. French media report that Nexa president Olivier Bohbot, managing director Renaud Roques, and former president Stéphane Salies face the same charges for surveillance sales to Egypt.
“When you look at attempts to hold these companies accountable, you see a lot of failures … we still face strong obstacles.”
Clémence Bectarte, International Federation for Human Rights
The charges were brought by brought by the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes unit of the court, but the case began 10 years ago when Amesys sold its system for listening in on internet traffic to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Six victims of the spying testified in France about being arrested and tortured by the regime, an experience that they say is a direct result of these spying tools. In 2014, the company sold surveillance software to Egyptian president Abdel al-Sisi shortly after he took control of the country in a military coup.
The complaints, filed by the International Federation for Human Rights, or FIDH, and the French League for Human Rights, allege that the company did not have government permission to sell its technologies to Libya or Egypt because oversight was weak and at times nonexistent. The claims led to an independent judicial investigation against Amesys/Nexa, which is still ongoing. Next, the judges will decide whether to send the case to criminal court or dismiss it if there is not sufficient evidence—but the indictment is a major step forward and points toward the prospect that the judges will view the evidence as potentially strong enough to support a criminal trial.