REPORT: Foreign Companies Tried To Sell Surveillance Tech To Iran

A Reuters report published today sheds further light on efforts by foreign corporations to profit from Iran’s surveillance state by selling technology designed to increase the Iranian government’s ability to digitally eavesdrop on its citizens:

Documents seen by Reuters show that a partner of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd offered to sell a Huawei-developed “Lawful Interception Solution” to MobinNet, Iran’s first nationwide wireless broadband provider, just as MobinNet was preparing to launch in 2010.

The system’s capabilities included “supporting the special requirements from security agencies to monitor in real time the communication traffic between subscribers,” according to a proposal by Huawei’s Chinese partner seen by Reuters.

Huawei denies selling the surveillance system to MobinNet, but Reuters’ source says they “acquired” a Huawei system before launching. The report comes shortly after the International Telecommunications Union’s Telecommunications Standardization Sector (ITU-T) quietly approved new standards for Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) without guidelines for responsible use. DPI is the same the technology promoted by Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE, for use in Iran’s snooping. More than a dozen U.S. lawmakers urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to investigate ZTE sales of surveillance equipment and U.S. technology to Iran in July of this year.


Huawei also provided the technological infrastructure of the closed intranet system currently being developed by Iran. As Chinese companies, neither Huawei or ZTE are banned from doing business with Iran under U.S. sanctions — nor did U.S. sanctions explicitly ban sales of surveillance technology to Iran until earlier this year.

Reuters also reports Iran’s second largest mobile phone operator MTN Irancell was required by their licensing agreement to allow Iran’s security agency to “record and monitor subscribers’ communications, including voice, data, fax, text messaging and voicemail.” MTN Irancell is 49 percent owned by Africa’s largest telecom carrier MTN Group and met the terms of the agreement by using technology purchased by Nokia’s German unit from Utimaco Safeware AG.