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MEPs slam Nokia Siemens for aiding Iranian censors

Mullahs throttle Gmail ahead of opposition protests

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Updated MEPs singled out Nokia Siemens for criticism over selling censorship and surveillance systems to Iran on Wednesday, charges the networking firm said are unfounded.

A European Union Parliament resolution "strongly criticizes international companies, and notably Nokia/Siemens, for providing the Iranian authorities with the necessary censorship and surveillance technology, thus being instrumental to persecution and arrests of Iranian dissidents".

The parliament called on the EU institutions immediately to "ban the export of surveillance technology by European companies to governments and countries such as Iran".

Nokia Siemens Networks said MEPs have misunderstood the use of its technology in Iran. The networking firm concedes that it did provide "lawful interception" (wiretapping) capabilities for mobile kit it supplied to Iran but denies it has anything to do with technology used to censor internet connections, a practice it condemns.

"The implication that we have provided censorship technology is wrong," a Nokia Siemens spokesman explained. "We will be clarifying any innaccuracy in their understanding of our business in Iran with the European Parliament."

"Contrary to some press reports, the mobile networks Nokia Siemens Networks provided have no capability for surveillance or censorship or so-called 'deep packet inspection' of emails or other Internet traffic. Moreover, almost all Internet traffic in Iran is carried on fixed, not mobile, networks."

"We are, of course, aware of reports from Iran, and condemn any abuse of communication technologies that may have taken place. 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.".

An FAQ from Nokia Siemens Networks on its business in Iran is here.

Technology exports between US firms and Iran are strictly controlled so the country can be expected to make greater use of European technology from the like of Nokia/Siemens than might otherwise be the case.

The European Parliament resolution, which also called for Iran to "restore the transparency of its nuclear programme" and free dissidents, was made on the eve of the 11 February anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Opposition groups plan to stage demonstrations on Thursday, continuing protests over the disputed results of June 2009 presidential elections, but efforts to coordinate these protests have been frustrated by a disruption of internet and mobile services by the Iranian authorities.

The BBC's Farsi service and social networks (used to co-ordinate last year's protests) have long being the target for censorship. This week Iranian authorities throttled access to webmail services including Yahoo! and Gmail and shut down text-messaging services.

An Iranian official told local media that Gmail would be blocked to "encourage users to switch to local e-mail services", the New York Times reports. ®

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