Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Did Nokia Siemens Network Give Iran Surveillance Technology?

The Wall Street Journal and WIRED magazine are reporting that Nokia Siemens Network, a subsidiary of the German and Finnish telecom companies, supplied technology for monitoring and censoring communications as part of a larger deal for a mobile phone network with the Iranian government late in 2008. According to the WSJ, the deal included provisions for "deep packet inspection", which involves not only the ability to block or restrict access to specific websites, but also the capability to inspect the content of individual communications. The company confirms the deal, but denies that the technology provided allows deep packet inspection, instead claiming that the contract included what it refers to in lovely newspeak as "provision of Lawful Intercept capability":
In most countries around the world, including all EU member states and the U.S., telecommunications networks are legally required to have the capability for Lawful Intercept and this is also the case in Iran.
Whether the requirement by EU and US bureaucrats to include spying/censorship backdoors for law enforcement in telecommunications software is itself legitimate and commensurate to democratic standards relating to the rule of law is of course highly questionable (for the record, I say no). Another matter is whether a European company should sell such equipment to a regime with a record like that of the Islamic Republic, which suppresses free speech (and may have manipulated the elections of last week) as a matter of course. Yet the two issues are closely related. Had the European and US governments decided to defend democratic/civil-rights principles even under pressure from "security experts", it would be much more difficult for companies like Nokia Siemens Networks to defend their decision to trade integrity for profit.

I found this an interesting question to consider in the context of the important role of mobile communications technology for documenting eand coordinating events during the current unrest in Iran.

N.b., not to unfairly single out Iran for violations of privacy, whether clandestine or "legal": It turns out that the NSA, which is able to read the e-mails of all US citizens without court orders using the Pinwale software, has also been accessing the personal communications of former US president Bill Clinton.

Feel free to communicate with Nokia Siemens Networks and their damage control man Ben Roome at this address or via e-mail at ben.roome@nsn.com. They will certainly be delighted to hear from you provided you state your opinion respectfully.

No comments: