Nokia and Siemens provided surveillance tools used to bust Iranian activists

A Nokia-Seimens joint venture supplied the key surveillance tech to the Iranian government that is being used to spot and bust protestors, subjecting them to massive human rights violations and endangering their lives. Seimens says it's all Nokia's fault, and a spokesman says they did nothing wrong because spying on and torturing dissidents is legal in Iran.

Meanwhile, Cisco and every other "western" network tech company is busily selling spyware, censorware, and other surveillance crap to every repressive government in the world, and also raking in big bucks selling unconstitutional wiretap tools to the US government for use on domestic populations (including, it turns out, former presidents).

Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), a joint venture between the Finnish cell-phone giant Nokia and German powerhouse Siemens, delivered what is known as a monitoring center to Irantelecom, Iran's state-owned telephone company.

A spokesman for NSN said the servers were sold for "lawful intercept functionality," a technical term used by the cell-phone industry to refer to law enforcement's ability to tap phones, read e-mails and surveil electronic data on communications networks.

In Iran, a country that frequently jails dissidents and where regime opponents rely heavily on Web-based communication with the outside world, a monitoring center that can archive these intercepts could provide a valuable tool to intensify repression...

Ben Roome, a spokesman for NSN, said, "We provide these systems to be used under the applicable laws in their countries and make sure we are abiding by U.N. and [European Union] export regulations and code of conduct. We provided the monitoring center to Irantelecom. We are not going to comment on the use of it. It is there to record lawful intercepts." ...

"My first reaction is, 'Wow! Why do they do this?' Don't they know that this will be used against the people of Iran?" said Mr. Sazegara, who now lives in the United States.

"They facilitate a regime which easily violates human rights in Iran and the privacy of the people of Iran. They have facilitated the regime with a high technology that allows them to monitor every student activist, every women's rights activist, every labor activist and every ordinary perso

Fed contractor, cell phone maker sold spy system to Iran (Thanks, Bill and everyone else who suggested this!)


  1. Feel free to delete if this is too spammy. I’m plugging my own article.

    This morning, I interviewed Nokia Siemens Networks’ spokesperson Riitta MÃ¥rd.

    She refused to give any details about the surveillance system her company sold to Iran, even if the information could help protesters. “We do not release this information about our clients.”

    A moment ago, NSN sent out a press release with some of the information that MÃ¥rd refused to give me earlier. They’re claiming that they only sold voice monitoring of local calls, no surveillance of the Internet or of international calls. I have no idea how reliable this information is, but I’m glad to see that there’s public pressure about this, and that it’s making the company react.

    Other highlights of the interview:

    How did you take Iran’s political situation into consideration when negotiating this deal?

    “Extraordinary circumstances like the ones in Iran right now cannot be predicted – it can happen anywhere.”

    But it hasn’t exactly been a surprise. The fact that the government keeps a close watch on the opposition has been well known for years.

    “We don’t set conditions like this to our clients. Companies can’t act like that, alone. And after all we’re talking about a system that was designed to increase people’s own safety.”

    How was [NSN’s corporate responsibility] policy reflected in the deal with Iran?

    “We do indeed have a strict ethical code for our business partners, and we’ve been very actively making sure that your suppliers don’t use, for example, child labour. We use this code to choose who we buy from.”

    But not who you sell to?

    “In Iran’s case, there was no such impediment.”

  2. Cory,

    As a fellow ORG member I’m appalled if this is true but as an employee of Nokia I’m fairly sure it’s not (or at least not as it is drafted). Well, if it is then we (Nokia employees) should be raising hell about it internally.

    If you’re about in London and would like me to find someone here you can speak to in person about it I’ll do my best…

  3. With any luck this will prove that all the surveillance in the world won’t snuff liberty.

    Alternately, it’s beta testing.

  4. Whatever.

    When did people start expecting large multinational companies to act in ethical or political manners?

    These companies sell a tool, which will make them money. As long as the tool they’re selling has legitimate uses (and it does), it’s kinda hard to blame them for doing what business does best.

  5. That’s what you get when corporatism gets out of control; many of us warned about that and got labeled as commies.
    Surprise! If you don’t put limits to the power of corporations you get something that’s nearly identical to extreme communism in the way common people is getting screwed from those in power.

    The economic world follows rules that don’t take into account the rights of people because the economic world is a system where the dominant creature is the corporation, not the human being, as people couldn’t care less about ants in the normal world.
    In this context, one could state that there’s no such thing as democracy in any “western” developed country because economic development requires being strongly integrated into that corrupt system.

  6. Allow me to point out some facts. Nokia Siemens make (in this case) mobile phone networks. A MANDATORY part of a mobile phone netowrk is the lawful intercept capabilities. They can identify where any mobile phone is that is using the network, record calls made by any mobile, record texts incoming and outgoing and record any data that the phone transmits. The capabilities of the lawful intercept boxes are finite, it cannot monitor every phonecall or data session (all SMS are stored unencrypted in the SMSC – never use a text for any reason, they are not safe and far more expensive than a phonecall). I have stood up in court in the UK explaining the boxes and how we know the data is accurate and this has lead directly to many convictions for illegal activities. It is simply a part of the price of using a mobile. The abuse of this power is the issue, not the existance of the network.

    The only way Nokia could avoid putting in such a box was not to sell the the network in the first place. That would mean no texts, no mobile tweets, no camraphone pictures of the horrors committed right now. I think a network is better than no network.

  7. Bade, this is NOT about the lawful intercept capabilities as such, but a separate surveillance system that archives & analyses all the data gathered THROUGH lawful interception. Nokia Siemens Networks admits as much.

    If you have time for a PDF, read their own promotional material. We’re talking about highly effective data mining: for example, possibly millions of phone calls monitored by speech recognition software that raises an alarm when it encounters certain keywords and patterns.

  8. AFAIC, ‘Surveillance’ and ‘Data Mining’ are two totally different tasks. Surveillance is concerned with eavesdropping on a known target’s calls or other communications. This, OTOH, is eavesdropping on EVERYONE and seeing what you can find. Not OK.

  9. Intersting PDF Hannanik, it seems like a commercialised version of ECHELON for countries who are not in the US/UK/AUS intelligence gathering alliance. I do think data mining is a bad thing, but nearly everything has been monitored for decades. It is the use and abuse of that info that is heinous.

  10. Isn’t there a US law that forbids US companies* from doing business with Iran since the US have official sanctions against them? Shouldn’t the US just tell Siemens & Nokia they can’t do business within its borders if they want to sell surveillance technology to Iran?

    *Yes, I know they aren’t US companies, but they have US subsidiaries.

  11. How else would the USA get their intelligence if Nokia/Siemens don’t give it to them (via their subsidiaries)?
    The USA has asked the Australians to intercept domestic US telephone conversations for them, something they themselves are not lawfully allowed to do. They have asked the Turks and Estonians to torture suspects for them, because, oh wait, they did do some of it themselves…

  12. nword… You are right, corporations mostly have no souls and they are mainly just trying to make money. But, we as citizens and consumers often do have souls and we every day we make decisions with our spending and investments. It is up to regular people to raise hell as users of a company’s goods. This is how we keep companies honest and provide them with the concience that our economic system doesn’t provide itself.

  13. Is there software that would allow Iranian citizens to thwart this deep-packet data mining through a re-configuration as to how the data is put together? If this software was to be open-sourced and if the information as to its availability was circulated, it might prevent deaths and imprisonment.

    Jeff Newman

  14. they’ve trashed their names as bad as yahoo did with china. when will these companies realize helping tyrants massacre freedom fighters is the WORST PR there is!!!!

  15. these f’ing multinationals – it is the same as selling gas to the Nazis or machetes to the Hutu govt in Rwanda in 1994 and saying “well we sold it for lawful means, and if committing genocide is lawful in those countries it is not our fault.”

  16. Siemens proved by the past that they know how to collaborate, I’m surprised about Nokia in this case.. but business is business and humanity is humanity. THe consummer will judge.

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