"Death to Nokia Phones!" An Iranian Rallying Cry?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/19/2009 06:37:00 PM
The late Ayatollah Khomeini became famous for his pronouncements about the US being the "Great Satan" while his supporters chanted that now world-famous line about "Death to America!" Regardless of your opinion of him, you can't deny that the Grand Ayatollah was a great polemicist. (Nowadays, of course, we know that the Ayatollah needn't have bothered as the Yanks are bleeding themselves to death financially along with any claim to greatness, but that's another story.) In an interesting turnaround, the current protest movement fomenting over the alleged manipulation of the recent Iranian elections resulting in the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmandinejad is also tossing barbs at Western devils. However, the rallying cry these days is decidedly different.

You see, the protest movement claims that Nokia, the world's largest cellular phone maker, has provided the Iranian leadership with the requisite equipment for snooping in on mobile communications. Hence the doctored graphic above. However, Nokia refutes this claim, saying that all its national clients have equipment similar to those it has sold to the Iranian powers-that-be. In any event, the protest movement is claiming that its boycott of the Finnish firm's famous wares is killing Nokia's market share in Iran. There's even an online petition you can sign on to in case you're similarly convinced that Nokia is conniving with the misguided mullahs. From Radio Free Europe:
Ehsan doesn't personally own a Nokia, and over the past few weeks the 26-year-old Tehran resident has actively tried to ensure that friends and family -- or anyone else who will listen -- don't buy the mobile-phone giant's products either. Ehsan says that he would be proud if his efforts have harmed Nokia, which he accuses of aiding the Iranian government in its "crackdown against freedom" following the country's controversial presidential election on June 12.

According to the moderate Iranian daily "Etemad Melli," many Iranians who sympathize with the protests are boycotting Nokia for providing the Iranian government with the capability to tap mobile telephones, scramble the SMS text messages used by many protesters to communicate, and interrupt calls. The paper, which belongs to reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi, headlined its story by saying Nokia sales in Iran have been halved as a result of the boycott, although no figures were provided to support the claim. The report quoted phone sellers as saying that the price of Nokia cell phones has fallen in Iran, and that many people are exchanging their Nokia phones for other brands...

The Nokia boycott campaign was launched following reports that Nokia Siemens Networks, a Nokia subsidiary that specializes in communications services and networks, provided the Iranian government with a monitoring center. "The Wall Street Journal" reported on June 22 that the monitoring capability was provided in 2008 as part of a deal under which Nokia Siemens Networks provided Iran with mobile-phone networking technology.

Ben Roome, a spokesman for Nokia Siemens Networks, told RFE/RL that the company provides traditional circuit-switch telecoms equipment to Iran, and that all networks can potentially be monitored. "When we sell any network, anywhere in the world, we sell it knowing that whoever runs that network has the ability, potentially, to listen in to phone calls running across that network," Roome said.

In the case of Iran, the technology may have given the government the ability to listen in on individual phone conversations, and to track down opposition members and critics. The Iranian establishment is believed to have used the system during the current crackdown, and even before.

Several former detainees have told RFE/RL that during interrogation sessions they were asked about past text messages and calls. A blog titled "Boycott Nokia For Iran Crackdown" has changed Nokia's motto from "connecting people" to "jailing people." It states that Nokia has a responsibility to ensure that its technology is used in an ethical manner. On Facebook, an image is circulating showing a Nokia cell phone with ears, above text that reads: "Nobody is alone."
They have a Facebook page, too. Now here's a CSR problem for a major Western multinational in the digital age if there ever was one. The WSJ also has a feature on Iran's ability to perform "deep packet inspection." Whether "Death to Nokia Phones!" has the same sort of ring to it I leave up to you.