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‘Spy for peace’ to share secrets of career at free public talk


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Formerly of the Omega Foundation, researcher of global surveillance and the arms trade, and now lecturer at Leeds Beckett, Dr Steve Wright, will deliver a free public talk about his career to date.

Image by Steve Wright of weapons at an arms fair

Dr Wright, a Reader in the School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett, has spent decades researching the technology of political control, including working under cover for Amnesty International, the European Commission's Human Rights and Democratisation Unit and TV programmes such as World in Action and Channel 4's The Torture Trail. His talk will take place on Wednesday 15 February, from 3-4.30pm at the University’s city centre Woodhouse Building, in Lecture Theatre 1. Places are free and can be booked here.

Dr Wright explained: “My research was never mere social astronomy but literally applied global ethics, designed to directly impact on the arms trade, global surveillance and the hideous business of torture and execution. In my talk, I will explain how the process of research activism can be used to create a new form of political jujitsu. It led to arrests, threats of prosecution, Ministers being fined, suicide and ultimately changes in policy and the exposure of corporate crime. In the end this is a story of survival and uneasy ethics. 

“All civilised nations abhor the use of torture as an instrument of public policy and the International Convention Against Torture bans its use everywhere without any derogation. Last year, Europe outlawed the sale of all instruments which could be used for torture and execution. The choice has always been between civilisation and barbarism. Last week, newly-elected President Trump advocated torture as a government service - a harbinger of darker times to come - unless a new generation stands with the civilised world and says ‘not in my name’.” 

Dr Wright’s research into security and surveillance uncovered the scale of trade in arms and control technologies, and exposed the global eavesdropping Echelon System – changing international regulation and policies.

Image taken by Steve Wright of weapons at an arms fair

For more than three decades, Dr Wright has researched the spreading of technologies of political control and human rights violation. His PhD thesis documented innovations and trade in new technologies for social and political control, including advanced surveillance, sub-lethal weapons systems and torture technologies.

Dr Wright built on his research to set up the Omega Research Foundation in 1989, with colleagues, with the aim of gathering sufficient data to quickly identify any technology found at the scene of a violation and connect it to a specific company. His findings have played a significant role in bringing about changes in how the trade is regulated and controlled by governments globally.

The Omega report An appraisal of technologies of political control, authored by Dr Wright, exposed the global eavesdropping Echelon System run by the US National Security Agency. The report was featured in every major newspaper in the world, triggering debates in the European Parliament on electronic spying and public accountability, and leading to the formation of the parliament’s Echelon committee. It continues to inform the European Commission’s policy on security.

Dr Wright went on to produce a policy report for UK police which led to the ban on electroshock devices under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.

He assisted in formulating new EU-wide policy on the use of security technologies which is adopted by all EU member states, and new rules on societal and ethical impact assessments for future security technologies which inform all EU security funding bids.

He has also worked as a postman, a builder, a university gardener, an organic chemist, a union researcher, head of a local authority unit to monitor the police, an emergency planner, a transport policy officer, a journalist and a spy.

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