Technology for surveillance: Which is the oppressive regime?

In the wake of the Iranian election turmoil, it came to light that the infrastructure for the mobile phone network in Iran was supplied by Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture of Nokia and Siemens. And this infrastructure not only allows normal use of mobile phones, it also allows surveillance of those phones by the local authorities.

This is enough for one of our numerous do-gooders in Germany, Claudia Roth, to vent some steam in the press:

Es ist haarsträubend, dass es eine solche Lieferung an ein ganz offensichtlich autoritäres Regime gegeben hat. Das ist ein Fall eklatanter unternehmerischer Verantwortungslosigkeit. Unternehmen agieren ja nicht in einem rechtsfreien Raum†, wenn es darum geht, die Universalität der Menschenrechte zu schützen. Jedes Unternehmen, das solche Technik liefert, muss wissen, dass sie in solchen Ländern zur Unterdrückung und Repression eingesetzt wird.

(It is disgusting that this technology was supplied to an obviously authoritarian regime. This is a case of blatant corporate irresponsibility. Corporations don’t act in an unlegislated area†, when the Universality of Human Rights must be protected. Any corporation that supplies such technology must know that it is used in those countries for the purpose of oppression.) [my translation]

(You have to imagine her with foam at the mouth while she utters eklatante unternehmerische Verantwortungslosigkeit.)

The BBC has an interesting report on this. The money quote:

A spokesman [for Nokia Siemens Networks] described the system as a standard architecture that the world’s governments use for lawful intercept. He added: Western governments, including the UK, don’t allow you to build networks without having this functionality.

This surveillance technology was not developed for Iran. It was developed for western countries like the UK or Germany! And our regime here in Germany has made use of this equipment mandatory! So that they can better control the populace! Now, which is the oppressive regime? This is another case of the pot calling the kettle black. And no wonder it comes from a do-gooder.


† A curious case of the German language and its use for self-deception of our politicians. Rechtsfreier Raum: what could be an adequate translation into English? I went with unlegislated area, but I’m not convinced. A comparison to the wild west might be adequate, at least the wild west that a German might imagine who has seen to many bad western movies. However, this specific phrase entered political discourse only a short time ago, but it seems to have infected many of our politicians already. It was originally used to describe the internet. The notion was that the internet is something completely detached from our physical reality, and therefore our laws and customs mean nothing there (at least to our politicians it looks like an unreal wasteland). And therefore new legislation is needed for the internet, which may be as outrageously stupid as possible, as there is no connection to our physical reality. Thus we have introduction of an infrastructure for censorship, introduction of monopolies to protect non-sensical concepts like intellectual property, and so forth. All thanks to the stupidity and bone-headedness of our politicians.

About Daniel Tiggemann

Software-developer living in Cologne, Germany. Was once a physicist, specialized in computer simulations and parallel programming. Now more into JavaScript, web frontend development, and especially mobile computing.
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