No-go zones: Ethical geographies of the surveillance industry

Main Article Content

Claire Helen Lauterbach


In an industry as opaque as the surveillance technology industry, any effort to put in place safeguards to prevent human rights abuses using these technologies should be recognised and encouraged. But what happens when those systems fail?

For surveillance technology companies, deciding where not to sell in a world full of eager government clients has important ethical and financial implications. The surveillance industry favours a country-agnostic framework that hews to sanctions and export laws. Advocacy and media groups argue to extend the no-sell zone beyond sanctioned governments to ‘authoritarian’ ones.

Yet legal compliance is not the only factor influencing surveillance companies’ choices, this article argues. Based on original investigation, this article examines the social responsibility policies of communications surveillance technology vendors and the legal, reputational and normative concerns these demonstrate.

The article explores the use of country rankings related to ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘good governance’ by examining the inner workings of a specific company in crisis, Procera Networks. As the cases featured demonstrate, closer attention to be paid processes of corporate responsibility norm-making within companies.

Article Details

Author Biography

Claire Helen Lauterbach, Head of Research and Investigations Privacy International

Claire Lauterbach is head of Research and Investigations at Privacy International, a London-based research and advocacy group that investigates government surveillance and the companies enabling it.


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