Lenin reportedly said that capitalists would sell the rope with which the Communists would hang them. It didn’t work out that way in the end, but the concept appears to be alive and well in Iran. Eli Lake reports that German-Finnish telecom Nokia Siemens has provided the Iranian mullahcracy with key wiretap capability that will allow them to keep dissent suppressed and the current messianic theocracy in place:
Two European companies — a major contractor to the U.S. government and a top cell-phone equipment maker — last year installed an electronic surveillance system for Iran that human rights advocates and intelligence experts say can help Iran target dissidents.
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.
First, we should question just how much technology got transferred in this exchange. If Nokia Siemens wants to sell its best technology to service an oppressive regime like Iran, we need to know what capabilities they now have. We should also rethink our own government contracts with Nokia and Siemens. We should not do business with those who deliberately aid in repression. Siemens did $900 million with the US government in the last four years, and in the next four, that money should go to companies that don’t provide dictatorships with listening centers.
This is reminiscent of the cooperation Google and Yahoo have lent China in tracking down dissidents. Companies like Google, Yahoo, Nokia, and Siemens should understand that they have a big stake in freedom. Without Western protections, these companies would have either never started in the first place or would have been highly restricted in what services and products they could sell. Selling tools of oppression to petty dictators and theocratic thugs is a betrayal of the people working for democracy and the same freedoms of choice.
Nokia Siemens claims that the monitoring center will only get used to conduct “lawful intercepts,” but that’s an interesting term to use with the Iranian mullahcracy. They note that the use of the monitoring center gets limited by laws and courts, but in Iran’s case, all of these checks serve the mullahcracy. That’s the entire problem with selling this kind of technology to oppressive regimes. Nokia Siemens sounds incredibly naive, but in reality they have taken an extremely cynical position just to justify a large sale, and a large-scale sellout.