Nokia burned by EU for assisting Iran with monitoring technology

Nokia has been helping the Iran government with surveillance technology to track mobile phone users since this issue became known by the media in June of 2009.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor

Nokia has been helping the Iran government with surveillance technology to track mobile phone users since this issue became known by the media in June of 2009. A European Parliament resolution on Wednesday hits Nokia Siemens point blank:

In a resolution adopted on Wednesday, the MEPs said the hardware was instrumental in the "persecution and arrests of Iranian dissidents".

Surveillance in Iran is especially worrisome because surveillance techniques, applications and devices could be used to violate human rights that the EU requires its signatory nations  -- and corporations - to abide to.

Some Members of the European Parliament are considering harsher penalties against the company. In a BBC article posted today:

Nokia Siemens said the technology that it had installed was similar to that used "in all EU member states and the US".

"When you set up a modern network - as an operator - if you want a licence to operate you have to have a standard surveillance capability in the network," Christina Dinne, also of the firm, said.

Nokia Siemens told BBC News that it had provided "very basic surveillance" capabilities to Iran Telecom in 2008. The product is called Monitoring Centre and can be used to monitor local telephone calls.

"You can't track keywords," said Mrs Dinne.

The U.N. and EU have several issues to address, like sanctions that are already in place against Iran with technology being one of them. It's not clear how or if Nokia has violated existing export of its surveillance products. According to Nokia it is in full compliance of the law. The European Parliament is set to bring a resolution forward banning the export of the technology.

The resolution "strongly criticizes international companies, and notably Nokia/Siemens, for providing the Iranian authorities with the necessary censorship and surveillance technology, thus being instrumental to persecution and arrests of Iranian dissidents". Parliament called on the EU institutions immediately to "ban the export of surveillance technology by European companies to governments and countries such as Iran".

Nokia responded back in June of 2009 in a press release;

Recent media reports have speculated about Nokia Siemens Networks' role in providing monitoring capability to Iran. Nokia Siemens Networks has provided Lawful Intercept capability solely for the monitoring of local voice calls in Iran. Nokia Siemens Networks has not provided any deep packet inspection, web censorship or Internet filtering capability to Iran.

But DPI technology is not where the focus of surveillance resides, it's the mobile phone users that the Iranian State Security is focusing on. Videos and text messages are leaking out real-time information and student demonstrations.  How Nokia Siemens deals with this issue has considerable impacts. The company  potentially faces a public backlash that could harm retail sales and further EU and U.S. government scrutiny. It also brings into question how surveillance products are sold in China and Venezuela, where Nokia has a significant presence and manufacturing facility. RIM, Motorola, Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, and Google will need to pay close attention as this could blow up in their faces too.

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