I have recently heard about a project that was developed by Google (Dragonfly search engine) and eventually shut down.

This article provides more information about the main issues of this particular project:

According to the leaked documents and sources, it would “blacklist sensitive queries” as well, so “no results will be shown” when people search specific words or phrases; entries such as “human rights,” “student protest” and “Nobel Prize” would be amongst those blacklisted. The Chinese government would also be able to easily access people’s search records, posing significant danger to those the government systematically targets, such as journalists, activists and political opponents.

It is no surprise then that the mega-company kept Project Dragonfly under wraps, considering it would facilitate the violation of free speech, a human right as declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations (UN).

So, from the perspective of Western countries perspective there are some serious issues with such a project.

The same article also mentions employees putting pressure on the company to stop the project.


Since Dragonfly involved helping China maintain censorship and also developing a technology that might be used for similar purposes by other countries, I am wondering if Western countries (e.g. EU, US) have a mechanism to deter such project development? Or are they unable to mess with a private company's ability to develop projects for use outside their territory.

Question: How can a state (or a union) deter a company from developing technology that could enable censorship or human rights violations outside the country in question?


1 Answer 1


Export Controls

Export controls ban the export of a item or technology to another country without a license. This is common where technology has multiple uses so development, or export in general, should not be banned outright.

For example, a network security firewall can be used to find and block malware attacks, but also reconfigured for censorship. Polycarbonate plastic, found in DVDs and water bottles, is synthesized from phosgene gas, used in World War I as a chemical weapon. Controls on these items, and their associated penalties, ensure visibility into legitimate uses.

Items can be restricted in direct response to their use. For example, the export of machetes to Rwanda was banned due to use in human rights abuses there. The item need not be physical and can include software and technical documentation.

In the US, ITAR and the EAR are the primary regulations, the former for being for more sensitive military technologies. The Wassenaar Agreement is the primary international control regime, though there are specialized arrangements for fields such as nuclear technologies.

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