Nokia-Siemens Spy Tools Aid Police Torture in Bahrain
- Tuesday, 06 September 2011 10:58
Spy tools sold and maintained by German communications and engineering giants Siemens and Nokia Siemens Networks are being used by authorities in Bahrain to aid in their interrogation and torture of human rights activists, according to Bloomberg Markets magazine.
The equipment is used by authorities there, and in other repressive regimes, to track the location of activists through their mobile phones and record their conversations and text messages, according to activists as well as workers at NSN and Trovicor (a divested unit of NSN) who installed the systems in several Middle East countries.
Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar, a 39-year-old school administrator and activist, was shown transcripts of his text messages by jailers who beat him with rubber hoses and used other torture methods during his detention between August 2010 and February 2011.
The systems are currently sold and installed by Trovicor, a business whose activities initially began in 1993 as a unit of Siemens’ voice- and data-recording division. In 2007, the unit became part of Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture between Siemens and Finland’s Nokia Oyj. In March 2009, NSN sold the unit, then known as Intelligence Solutions, to Perusa Partners Fund — in part to distance NSN from the controversial surveillance business and the potential it posed for human rights abuses. Perusa renamed the company Trovicor, though the equipment and most of the workers remained the same as prior to the sale.
Trovicor’s monitoring centers, which can be installed at telecommunications companies or at ISPs, have been sold to Egypt, Syria and Yemen, in addition to Bahrain. In all, the equipment plays a surveillance role in at least 12 Middle Eastern and North African nations, Bloomberg Markets reports.
In 2009, NSN and Trovicor came under fire after The Wall Street Journal reported that the equipment was used by Iranian authorities to crack down on protesters involved in civil unrest following the country’s disputed presidential elections. An NSN spokesman defended the sale of the equipment to Iran at the time, saying the company provided the technology for “lawful intercept” purposes, such as combating terrorism, child pornography, drug trafficking and other criminal activity.
The news prompted hearings in the European Parliament as well as a “No to Nokia” consumer boycott campaign.
Surveillance equipment such as Trovicor’s, and those made by other companies, can do more than just intercept phone calls, VoIP calls, e-mails and text messages. They can also change the contents of written communications in transmission to feed misinformation, for example, to activists trying to organize a protest and track the location of people through their mobile phones. Some of the systems also offer voice-recognition and keyword-search software to scan phone networks for specific callers and words as well as features to remotely activate laptop webcams or microphones on mobile devices.
“We have to acknowledge that certain software products now are actually as effective as weapons,” Marietje Schaake, a European Parliament member who tracks abuses of information and communications technology, told Bloomberg.
“We are very aware that communications technology can be used for good and ill,” NSN spokesman Ben Roome told Bloomberg. “Ultimately people who use this technology to infringe human rights are responsible for their actions.”
Nikhil Gyamlani, a consultant who developed and installed some of the monitoring systems in the Middle East told Bloomberg he’s developing a new company, GlassCube, that he hopes will help curb some of those abuses. His company will offer remote kill switches and other technology that will help stop the abuses from afar when discovered.
“With the power comes a big responsibility; this is a business where people can get killed,” Gyamlani said. “It was depressing to see there was no control mechanism.”
Original Article: Wired.com - by Kim Zetter
Photo: Nokia billboard in Tehran. (Cyrus Farivar/flickr)