Nokia, Siemens hinder Iranian human rights, says Nobel winner

German engineering giant Siemens and Finnish telecoms firm Nokia have once again been accused of helping the Iranian government monitor calls and texts.

Nobel prizewinner Shirin Ebadi, speaking on France Culture radio said that some western technology companies are helping the government and called for international economic sanctions.

“Unfortunately, a certain number of firms support the Iranian regime in its repression and censorship,” she said.

“It’s clearly the case with Siemens and Nokia when they send the Iranian state software and technology that it can use to monitor mobile telephone calls and text messages,” she continued.

She also accused governments in the West of putting commercial contracts ahead of human rights.

The Nokia Siemens Network has insisted that it is not capable of bugging calls or spying on the Internet.

“We, as a company, in no way approve of the misuse of telecommunication equipment,” Nokia Siemens Network spokeswoman Riitta Maard told AFP.

“We believe that communication and mobile phone technologies play a significant role in the development of societies and the advancement of democracy,” she said.

However in June 2009 NSN told the BBC that it sold a product called the Monitoring Centre to Iran Telecom in the second half of 2008. This technology can monitor any communications across a network, including voice calls, text messaging, instant messages, and web traffic.

Although at the time Nokia Siemens said the product was only being used, in Iran, for the monitoring of local telephone calls on fixed and mobile lines.

The European Parliament seems to agree with the Nobel prizewinner. Last month it said it “strongly criticises international companies, in particular Nokia Siemens” selling Iranian authorities the tools necessary for censorship and surveillance. These companies are “instrumental in the persecution and arrest of Iranian dissidents,” it said at the time.

TechEye has been trying to contact NSN for its side of the story, however so far we have been unable to speak with anyone who can help. We’ll keep you updated if we hear anything.

Update: Nokia Siemens Network spokesperson, Ben Roome has got in touch with TechEye to tell us that it is aware of Shirin Ebadi’s comments.

“This topic has been the subject of some misinformation since the elections in Iran in June 2009,” he says, before going on to state that NSN has an in-built capability for Lawful Interception. This is the lawfully authorised interception and monitoring of telecommunications pursuant to an order of a government body.

He goes on to say, “We are, of course, aware of reports from Iran, and condemn any abuse of communication technologies that may have taken place. Nokia Siemens Networks maintains a stringent Code of Conduct and compliance mechanism, and scrupulously adheres to all applicable export controls, laws and regulations.

“We strongly believe that mobile networks have enhanced individuals’ lives, promote transparency, and empower citizens with effective means of feedback. In Iran they clearly have played a pivotal role in their ability to communicate, organize, and share their story with the outside world.”