Backing the wrong side in Iran

Timothy Garton Ash writes in the Guardian today,

A textbook example of what democracies should not do was provided last year by a joint venture between Siemens and Nokia, called Nokia Siemens Networks. It sold the Iranian regime a sophisticated system with which they can monitor the internet, including emails, internet phone calls and social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, much used by Iranian protesters. In today’s politics of people power, that is the equivalent of selling a dictator tanks or poison gas.

So, to be clear: a German company, Siemens, which used slave labour during the Third Reich, sold a Holocaust-denying president the instruments with which he can persecute young Iranians risking their lives for freedom. Think of that every time you buy something made by Siemens.

Writing on the same issue, I noted in June this year,

I suggested to some colleagues this morning that one can look at this issue from the perspective of power and accountability. The power of these DPI systems in Iran pale into insignificance with the capacity of what, for example, the US and its allies can monitor and intercept domestically and globally. But there is, at worst, retroactive judicial oversight in the US even when the Executive runs amok combined with the enabling Freedom of Information legislation. What can and should business do when this accountability and oversight is not present, and yet government’s ask for powerful technologies that can be used to undermine human dignity and human security?

But let’s not kid ourselves – you don’t do any business with a regime like Iran expecting them to give a free reign to rights, dissent and democracy. Is that a reason to not do any business? Not. Is that a reason to be up front to consumers about the business one does? Perhaps. Is that a reason to brush away a moral responsibility for the death of Neda Soltani?

For a different take, and quite a compelling one to boot, read Drac’s response to my post.

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