Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint telecom venture between Finland's Nokia Corp. and Germany's Siemens AG, is refuting claims that technology it sold to Iran is being used by that government to monitor Web activity and stifle dissent. Responding to allegations printed in The Wall Street Journal Monday, Nokia Siemens execs said the technology they provided to Iran is capable of lawful voice communication intercept only, the same capability required in the U.S. and much of Europe. The kind of "deep packet" Web monitoring alleged in the Journal article simply isn't possible, the company said.
As protests in Iran spill into a second week of unrest following disputed presidential elections, the Internet has taken a front seat as government censors have sought to block information and media reports from reaching the outside world. The Web has offered a unique window into that insular nation's political upheaval as news reports, video clips, and images of state-inflicted violence against peaceful protesters have made it through Iran's tightly controlled Internet connections, galvanizing international support and enabling protesters to organize via Web-based social media like Twitter.
The Journal article, titled "Iran's Web Spying Aided by Western Technology," alleged that European companies—naming Nokia Siemens specifically—were at least in part responsible for Iran's monitoring capabilities. Using that technology, the article alleges, "the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes."
Nokia Siemens said they don't know what other companies may have sold Iran additional Internet technologies, but the technology they've provided cannot monitor Web activity. A statement posted on Nokia Siemen's Web site noted the voice-intercept capability included on the communications infrastructure the company sold to Iran meets European Telecommunications Standards Institute criteria and is the same as that required by law in EU member states and the United States.
Censorship and the role Western businesses play in enabling oppressive regimes has become a hot-button issue in recent weeks, as developments in Iran and China have forced Western countries to weigh their ethical responsibilities with their duties to shareholders. Twitter postponed scheduled maintenance so the site would remain live as protests in Iran hit a fever pitch last week, and Google and Facebook rushed Farsi versions of their Web tools online, suggesting they are siding, at least implicitly, with the protesters.
In China, on the other hand, Google bent to government demands to further censor the search results that appear on the Chinese language version of that search engine yesterday. Meanwhile, PC makers are facing down the government over a recent mandate that all computers sold in that county be packaged with a state-controlled Web censoring software, a standoff the government is likely to win.
Nokia Siemens spokesperson Ben Roome pointed out in a blog post that the company knows it has choices to make when offering its technology to any regime, but defends its deployment of telecom technology in Iran. As Roome says in the post: "Mobile networks in Iran, and the subsequent widespread adoption of mobile phones, have allowed Iranians to communicate what they are seeing and hearing with the outside world," adding, "would people in Iran be better off without access to telecommunications at all?"