“Die Tageszeitung”, June 29, 2009
Snitcher-Aid in a legal Grey Area
The Iranian Government uses technology supplied by Siemens for controlling and suppressing opposition members. In Germany, politicians demand consequences.
By GORDON REPINSKI
When Christian Ruck talks about lapses from Siemens, you prick up your ears. The member of Bundestag (German Parliament - Julia) for the Christian Social Union (CSU) represents the electoral district of Augsburg – the sourroundings of Munich, where reside many employees of the technology corporation Siemens. High-esteemed by his colleagues, Ruck supports a conservative, economy-friendly policy.
However, since it became public that Siemens provided the Iranian Government with up-to-date obsevation techology in 2008, a border has been crossed even in the eyes of Ruck, who knows Iran well: “If Siemens has delivered material which is being used to suppress the opposition to the regime, I can not approve of that”, says the spokesman for international development policy of the CSU.
Ruck does not stand alone within the CSU. “It would have been better to not make that deal”, says member of Bundestag and ex-state secretary Eduard Lintner. The hitherto existing practice must be “reconsidered”. Similar words by Philipp Mißfelder (CDU – another conservative party in Germany – Julia): “it does not serve Germany’s interest to support the dictatorship in Iran in whatever way”. A conservative member of Bundestag has personally talked to responsible staff at Siemens to persuade them: “What you did is not agreeable”.
The Green Party bashed Siemens even harder: “ To provide latest technology to the dictators of this world is no option”, says Kerstin Müller (Green Party). “These systems are now being used as weapons against the protesters”. Even the FDP (liberal, economy-friendly party – Julia) has started reflecting this issue: “They seem to have a bad conscience”, says Werner Hoyer, responsible for foreign politics, about Siemens. “Action is required”. Ways of thinking seem to start changing now. According to liberal politician Hoyer, current trade restrictions are not sufficient, because the tools of suppression have changed. “We have to say good-bye to the idea that the threat is generally connected to weapons or batons”.
However, this does not lead to an amendment of law, because the supplies provided for Iran by Siemens, from a legal viewpoint, reside in a grey zone. “There is no clear regulation for sensitive technologies”, says Uta Zapf (SPD, social democratic party – Julia). A change of the legal situation therefore is “easier said than done”. In order to curb surveillance “the technology would have to be completely prohibited”. The prospects for this Zapf considers to be very poor: “I am not naïve about that”.
However, CSU-member Ruck points out that not only Siemens in Munich has made mistakes. Other companies and countries also act incorrectly. “Nobody should point their finger at German enterprises”, says Ruck. Especially the supervision of international embargos is, in his view, insufficient: “if you enact sanctions, they have to be adhered”, says Ruck. The way things are being dealt with at the moment causes a “stale feeling”.
Politicians now demand from Siemens self-restrictional approach to exports. “Siemens is morally obliged to not take part in these deals”, says Müller (Green Party). Uta Zapf pleeds for a dialog with Siemens about the consequences of the deal, however, is quite down-to-earth about chances of success: “Moral is something one just can not expect from the companies”.
Politics, however, are not disencumbered from its responsibility. “We sell all sort of stuff to Iran”, says Zapf. This, however, applies not only to Germany: “Concerning their exports, all countries operate on the edge of crime.”
What did Siemens supply?
Nokia Siemens Networks has sold to Iran surveillance technology of not yet clarified extent. His company has just supplied technology to observe landline and mobile phone calls, says Siemens spokesman Ben Roome. The purpose, he says, was just interception of language.
With statements like this, the finnish-german company defends itself against allegations of providing the Mullah-regime with software designed for large-scale surveillance of the internet. Wall Street Journal had reported that Nokia Siemens sold software for deep-packet-inspection to the Iranian telecommunication provider TCI.
This technology allows to filter data packets in the internet. Originally developed to analyze data to find and filter, for example, computer viruses or spam, it also allows to eavesdrop information and intercept conversations. The Journal referred, among other, to a remark of Siemens-spokesman Roome: “When you sell a network solution, you automatically sell functions allowing to intercept every communication sent through this network”.
On the website of the joint venture, Roome blogged: “In most countries, among them EU members and the U.S.A., it is mandatory by law that telecommunication networks provide possibilities of telephone surveillance for public authorities. Iran is one of those countries.”
Nokia Siemens Networks had indicated on a company-owned – and meanwhile deleted – site to have delivered the spy- and analyzing software “Intelligence Platform” to more than 60 countries; Iran, though, had not been among them, assures Roome. Moreover, the “Intelligence Platform” was sold to Perusa Partners Fund 1, L.P, an investment company in Munich. According to Heise Online, the software is now being offered by their subsidiary Trovicor. This company, according to their own homepage, has been founded in 1993 – as a part of Siemens.(Hurried translation by Julia)