Nokia boycott may be unjustified
A claim by the Wall Street Journal that Nokia helped Tehran monitor internet users was wrong, says the company. And IT experts agree
A campaign to boycott Nokia products, sparked by an expose in the Wall Street Journal accusing the telecommunications giant of providing advanced surveillance technology to the Tehran regime, may be unjustified because the article was wrong, say IT experts.
Retailers in Iran report that sales of Nokia phones have fallen by as much as half in recent weeks, after rumours spread across the internet that Nokia Siemens Networks, a Nokia subsidiary, provided the authorities with a 'monitoring centre' capable of controlling and censoring the Internet.
The Wall Street Journal reported on June 22 that a monitoring capability was included as part of a deal in 2008 under which Nokia Siemens Networks provided Iran with mobile phone networking technology.
The article claimed that this technology had allowed the Iranian government to engage in a practice called 'deep packet inspection', which enables the authorities to gather information about individuals and monitor the online conversations of internet users.
The story was widely repeated by other news outlets and as a result a campaign was launched to boycott Nokia products.
A blog titled 'Boycott Nokia for Iran Crackdown' has changed the company motto from 'connecting people' to 'jailing people' and urges users to send letters to Nokia accusing them of "providing the Iranian regime with an advanced digital monitoring centre that is enabling authorities to intercept private communications and arrest hundreds". So far, almost 9,000 people have sent letters as part of the campaign.
Nokia Siemens Networks have responded by confirming that they did provide a "monitoring centre" as part of the network, but that its capability is restricted to voice monitoring of local calls on its fixed and mobile network. The company said the Wall Street Journal was wrong to surmise that this surveillance technology also extended to the internet.
In a statement, Nokia Siemens Networks said: "The restricted functionality monitoring centre provided by Nokia Siemens Networks in Iran cannot provide data monitoring, internet monitoring, deep packet inspection, and international call monitoring or speech recognition. Therefore, contrary to speculation in the media, the technology supplied by Nokia Siemens Networks cannot be used for the monitoring or censorship of internet traffic."
They point out that there is nothing out of the ordinary in providing a monitoring centre as part of a new network. "In most countries around the world, including all EU member states and the US, telecommunications networks are legally required to have the capability for lawful intercept and this is also the case in Iran."
In a rare example of a corporate giant being backed by ordinary people, a wave of IT experts and bloggers have come to Nokia's defence and similarly debunked the WSJ report.
The web and tech innovation blog siliconANGLE posted a series of entries examining the evidence and concluded that Iran isn't using deep packet inspection technology. Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins, the blog's editor, said that internet traffic was still flowing into Iran, but citizens were unable to reach the websites they were trying to get to. When they used anonymous proxy servers, they were able to surf where they wanted to until they were discovered.
This suggested, he said, that the Tehran authorities were simply entering domains into a blacklist in a gateway at the national level. "It doesn't sound like they are blocking all web traffic, or else web proxies still using the same port number wouldn't help. To implement deep packet inspection, you'd need to have planned your hardware to do that on a national scale, something that would take significant preparation beforehand."
Ben Roome, a spokesman for Nokia Siemens Networks, said: "If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them. I was unable to clarify for the Wall Street Journal the limited scope of the lawful intercept capability and rule out all those specifics about deep packet inspection and web filtering. Our failure to kill that speculation at the outset has obviously led to a lot of concern about our work in Iran." ·
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