As activists take to the streets in Syria, using the power of Facebook and Twitter and other social services to organize one of the many revolutions across the Middle East, other American technologies are propping up the very regime these protesters hope to topple.
According to recent reports from Bloomberg, hardware equipment from the Palo Alto, California-based computer giant HP and the Sunnyvale-based storage outfit NetApp underpins a surveillance system the Syrian government is building to monitor citizen e-mail and internet use amid the ongoing protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Citing documents describing the deals and a source familiar with the matter, Bloomberg says an Italian surveillance company known as Area SpA bought the American equipment from resellers in Italy.
Since March, more than 3,500 people have died as Syrian troops moved to suppress the protests, and the U.S. government has banned U.S. companies from sending anything but food and medicine to Syria — though it will make exceptions in certain cases.
HP told Wired that complying with U.S. and international trade laws is of the “highest priority” to the company. And though NetApp did not respond to a request for comment, the company told Bloomberg it was unaware any of its products had been sold into Syria. But in today’s world, hardware suppliers must be more careful than ever to prevent their equipment from falling into the wrong hands. The internet can fuel revolutions, but it can also aid repressive regimes. And it can easily expose companies suppling gear to those regimes — whether supplying it inadvertently or not.