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Iranian Police Tracking Dissidents Using Tech From Western Companies 161

Posted by Soulskill
from the serving-the-almighty-buck dept.
chrb writes "A recent article at Bloomberg discusses Western companies supplying monitoring equipment to Iran. There are few regulations restricting the sale of intelligence monitoring systems to the Iranian government, and large corporations like Ericsson and Nokia have supplied the equipment used to identify dissidents and suppress anti-government protests. '[One such system from Creativity Software] can record a person’s location every 15 seconds — eight times more frequently than a similar system the company sold in Yemen, according to company documents. A tool called "geofences" triggers an alarm when two targets come in close proximity to each other. The system also stores the data and can generate reports of a person's movements. A former Creativity Software manager said the Iran system was far more sophisticated than any other systems the company had sold in the Middle East.'"
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Iranian Police Tracking Dissidents Using Tech From Western Companies

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  • Profit! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wsxyz (543068) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:39AM (#37949078)
    Hey, we're not in business to preserve human rights. In fact, we would be legally liable for failing our fiduciary duty to our shareholders if we failed to pursue the lucrative oppression-assistance market. We were incorporated to pursue profit and, by golly, that's what we're doing!
    • Re:Profit! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Reverand Dave (1959652) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:46AM (#37949184)
      Really, it's just the corporations getting practice for when they have to track the dissidents for their own purposes. Brought to you by Carl's Jr.
      • by kurt555gs (309278)

        Too true.

      • by DarkOx (621550)

        You know though if any of those companies took the moral highroad and said "no" someone else would just do it. This is one of the VERY VERY few cases were government should act.

        By act I mean pass very simple regulations that stipulate you can't sell shit to anyone on the rogue state list. Going through an intermediary does not work either, if knowing sell to someone who is likely to redistribute the goods to a rogue state, you still responsible. Then you add some punitive fines that don't go so earmarked

        • So you're justifying a Corporation being immoral asshats by saying "Hey, if they don't do it someone else will." I don't think that's a good reason.

          There are plenty of laws prohibiting companies from selling sensitive tech to rogue nations, but that doesn't keep them from doing it through shell companies and intermediaries. Doesn't seem like they are doing a bit of good in light of these events does it.
    • by MikeRT (947531) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:51AM (#37949238) Homepage

      Most of the weapons that have flooded the third world come from Russia (or the Soviet Union in the past), China or a handful of other countries that routinely ignore international law and protocol on arms dealing. Where was the outrage when the Libyan rebels found all of those brand new Chinese weapons from the Chinese state-owned weapons makers in Gaddafi's posession? Ever notice the dearth of American weapons in all of the third world killing zones?

      Frankly, I don't think the pursuit of profit is any more crass than the pursuit of political influence. Either way, you are putting your own good above doing the right thing.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        America makes some fine weapons systems in the cruise missle/air superiority fighter category. Conflicts in the third world usually swing more on lower-level weapons such as rifles and grenades and the like, which the Russians and Chinese do very well (some would argue better than the Americans).

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          America makes some fine weapons systems in the cruise missle/air superiority fighter category. Conflicts in the third world usually swing more on lower-level weapons such as rifles and grenades and the like, which the Russians and Chinese do very well (some would argue better than the Americans).

          About a year ago I was noodling around in the desert in Nevada and found dozens of expended cartridge shells. I picked them up and brought them home. The marking was "bxn 85", which I found to be a style of rifle popular in Russia from the time of the Tsars to the present, the 7.62mm54R. Oddly enough you can go into a Big 5 sporting goods and find a rifle which uses these shells (still commonly produced in Poland and Czech Republic) for $90 to $120, depending upon when they are on Sale. Comparable to an

          • by mr1911 (1942298)
            The .30-06 is a specific type of ammunition, not a rifle. A more comparable comparison for the 7.62x54r is a .308 Winchester -- still a decent performing round in wide use today. The Mosin Nagant mentioned from Big 5 is a perfectly serviceable rifle provided the one you get is in good condition -- inspect for rust and gauge the chamber before you fire.
            • by modecx (130548)

              The difference between .30-06 M1 ball and surplus 7.62x54r is a muzzle velocity of about 50-100fps for a bullet of comparable weight, out of a barrel of comparable length, with the very slight edge going to .30-06. .30-06 and 7.62x54r is the apt comparison, as each was designed originally for bolt action service rifles, and each was later adopted to various machine gun applications.

              Also, by the time 7.62x51 NATO was adopted, each of the above cartridges had already been in service for about a half century.

              F

            • provided the one you get is in good condition -- inspect for rust and gauge the chamber before you fire.

              ... And clean it if you shoot surplus or you'll find your bolt face covered in rust and barrel pitted.

          • by Ihmhi (1206036)

            Wow, I thought the only guns /. geeks knew about were of the "hot glue" and "N.E.S." varieties.

        • The good old AK47 is still the weapon of choice for many militias on a budget. It's cheap, takes cheap bullets, easily maintained and nearly indestructable. In rain or sand, snow or mud, twenty below or fifty above, it'll keep on killing. Russian engineering at it's best.
        • by mr1911 (1942298)

          such as rifles and grenades and the like, which the Russians and Chinese do very well (some would argue better than the Americans).

          Depends on your metric. If you wish to use a rifle as a rifle and strike a target from a distance, you are better off with an M16 variant than an AK-47 variant. If you wish to treat a rifle as a brick and then expect it to fire in the general vicinity of an adversary, then the AS-47 is your platform of choice. The functionality of the AK-47 in harsh conditions is a bit of engineering with a lot of loose tolerances.

          Both will do the job. It comes down to a preference for accurate fire or spray-and-pray.

      • America is the largest arms exporter in the world; the only reason the dictators don't provide American arms to their rank and file is because they are in general too expensive and perceived to be unreliable compared to AKs. But there are plenty of American-made heavy weapons found all over third-world killing zones.

      • Puh-leeze (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You must be joking. The US is the world's largest exporter of weapons. Amongst the countries the US exports weapons to, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and Israel have recently been in the news for their "killing fields".

        Of course, what the US govt does is make a list of evil doers and good guys. This list has little to do with killing fields or human rights, but rather political convenience and the lobbying of the arms industry. Then when someone sells to the side that the US govt doesn't like or couldn't sell to,

        • The US is the worlds largest arms exporter because it has so many wealthy allies. When you're trading arms with places like: Japan, Germany, UK, Canada, Australia, South Korea, etc. (you know places with real economies and money) it's not hard to see why they are the biggest. You don't need to (but they probably do anyways) violate arms embargoes when you can sign NATO friends up for multi-decade, multi-billion dollar tanks/fighters/ships/rockets.

          I seriously doubt the handful of weapons Yemen buys is in an

      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:25PM (#37949674) Homepage

        Ever notice the dearth of American weapons in all of the third world killing zones?

        No, actually - first off, I've never been there, so I have no firsthand knowledge. Second, with the amount of American-backed violence in those Third World 'killing zones', I figure they must have handed the guys we've decided are on our side at least a few American weapons.

        There's also a practical reason for preferring the Russian-made weapons over American-made: The AK-47 is cheaper to make, and easier to maintain, repair, and clean.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        > Ever notice the dearth of American weapons in all of the third world killing zones?

        Don't worry, the American weapons are all being used to outfit drug cartels!

      • by jonwil (467024)

        Back in the cold war days, the Soviets would pretty much give/sell AK-47s, RPGs and who knows what else to any government that hated the same countries the Soviets did.

    • Re:Profit! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bardwick (696376) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:55AM (#37949276)
      I know your trying to take a shot, but to answer your question, yes. When did a company become responsible for governments using/misusing thier technology/product? Our own govt. (U.S.) uses Sun boxes and Cisco switches to monitor ME. Think the US government isn't using similar software/hardware to monitor dissidents (Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party, Neo Nazi, etc..). It's a snow job blaming big companies (which is all the rage today). It reminds me when global warming fired up, even the traffic reports changed: Before global warming debate: "Intoxicated man ran over a pedestrian." After: "Intoxicated driver's SUV ran over a pedestrian".
      • Re:Profit! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by divisionbyzero (300681) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:16PM (#37949566)

        I know your trying to take a shot, but to answer your question, yes. When did a company become responsible for governments using/misusing thier technology/product? Our own govt. (U.S.) uses Sun boxes and Cisco switches to monitor ME. Think the US government isn't using similar software/hardware to monitor dissidents (Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party, Neo Nazi, etc..). It's a snow job blaming big companies (which is all the rage today). It reminds me when global warming fired up, even the traffic reports changed: Before global warming debate: "Intoxicated man ran over a pedestrian." After: "Intoxicated driver's SUV ran over a pedestrian".

        You're an idiot. As a civil society with democratic norms we draw limits to commerce all of the time. For example, we don't allow people to sell human body parts because of the perverse incentives it would create. We could, if we wanted, limit sale of such technology to those countries that misuse it and punish those countries that don't follow suit. The fact is that we, as a society, don't really care that much. Oh, we talk about how horrible it is, but when it comes to hard decisions we always take the easy way out by spouting the kind of nonsense you just did. As far as America doing it too, so what? We are talking about Iran.

        • Bingo. For crying out loud, someone please mod this up.

        • Re:Profit! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Bardwick (696376) on Friday November 04, 2011 @01:06PM (#37950198)
          I'm an idiot because your arguing a different point (which i agree with oddly). My point is that it's not up to the individual business to decided who is nice enough to buy thier technology. If Nokia sold them equipment/technology that was against U.S. policy, then by all means, prosecute. Use your own examples, They are all illegal. What Nokia did was legal. I take issue with some business practices, but I'm also going to call bullshit when I see it. GE paid no taxes so GE=bad. Why? Did they follow all current tax laws? Yes? Did they get write downs for losing thier ass the year before (shh.. it's a secret), yes. Ask yourself, "Can Krogers decide to not sell food to Muslims?". In short, if you want something illegal, make it illegal. BTW, as the IDIOT of the group, can you point out, in any way the part of your post the refutes mine?
          • Re:Profit! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday November 04, 2011 @01:52PM (#37950788) Homepage

            My point is that it's not up to the individual business to decided who is nice enough to buy thier technology.

            It is up to every individual, whether they're a blue-collar working-class stiff, or CEO of a Fortune 500, to make ethical decisions.

            Anyone who sold surveillance equipment to Iran knew they were making an unethical sale, but they simply didn't give a shit. Legality isn't ethics, so the defense that it was legal is just another way of saying that they don't give a shit about ethics or morals, they only care about any consequences they personally may face.

            We try to make unethical business practices illegal, because we know the sociopaths running many corporations will not behave ethically willingly. Often this happens as a consequence of them engaging in unethical activity and using the "well it was legal" excuse.

            Not everyone behaves ethically only to the extent that the law requires them to. Including CEOs. It is an individual choice to do so.

            So sure, maybe selling this equipment to Iran was legal for the companies that did it. It was still unethical, it was still wrong, and I will not refrain from saying so.

            The idea that because they can't be prosecuted for doing it, that therefore it wasn't unethical, or that it isn't their responsibility to be ethical, is the argument of amoral cads with no ethics to begin with.

          • by StikyPad (445176)

            If Nokia sold them equipment/technology that was against U.S. policy, then by all means, prosecute.

            Nokia isn't a US company. Neither is Ericsson. (Though to be fair, you're not the only one who missed this rather crucial detail.)

        • by Thing 1 (178996)

          For example, we don't allow people to sell human body parts because of the perverse incentives it would create.

          Heard on NPR this morning that there's an auction going on to sell Elvis' tooth. The reporter made a point to ask, "Do you sell any other body parts?" So, you are quite wrong.

      • Well you are in complete agreement with generations of the Bush family which has been making profits from wars for a century or so. Even wars against us. It was a Bush that was helping build the labor camps at Auschwitz. Preston Bush, a former U.S. Senator and director of a firm that helped and backed Nazi Germany which continued until their records were siezed in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Companies do have a moral and ethical responsibility as well as a legal one not to support the enem

    • Hog Wash (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:22PM (#37949644)

      In fact, we would be legally liable for failing our fiduciary duty to our shareholders

      This is not strictly true, though it is often quoted from someplace, usually someoneâ(TM)s ass.

      A company has the responsibility to do what is best for the stockholders. There is NO law requiring publically traded companies to pursue profit above all other considerations.

      • by demonbug (309515)

        In fact, we would be legally liable for failing our fiduciary duty to our shareholders

        This is not strictly true, though it is often quoted from someplace, usually someoneâ(TM)s ass.

        A company has the responsibility to do what is best for the stockholders. There is NO law requiring publically traded companies to pursue profit above all other considerations.

        And what's best for the stockholders is, almost always, increased profits. That's why the stockholders hold the stock, after all. Now, if you could show that an action would increase profits temporarily but prove disastrous in the long run then perhaps increasing profit would not be the fiduciarily responsible thing to do - but that is only because you are trading relatively minor short-term profit for (potentially) much greater long-term profits.

        • by Fned (43219)

          And what's best for the stockholders is, almost always, increased profits.

          Bullshit.

          Two words: "externalized costs." Your whole post was talking about profits versus profits. Nowhere did you even start to think about, say, profits versus social destabilization, or profits versus gigantic tax-funded bailouts, or profits versus poisoning large numbers of human beings, or profits versus destroying our own food supply.

          NO ONE is insulated from these things. No one.

        • What needs to happen is for every shareholder to be aware of exactly what it is they are buying into. If I buy a share that is responsible for killing someone I must be made accountable for it. Is there a legal framework for this already? That is, when Enron happened can we pursue shareholders seeing as no knowledge is no defense.

          Too many people buy shares recklessly, many without knowing exactly what it is they are creating.

        • And what's best for the stockholders is, almost always, increased profits.

          Short term or long term?

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        A company has the responsibility to do what is best for the stockholders. There is NO law requiring publically traded companies to pursue profit above all other considerations.

        You are correct that "there is no law". However, there are shareholders, and thus there are lawsuits.

    • by swb (14022)

      If they are legally liable for failing to maximize profits, how do they get away with management buyouts?

      Management isn't buying the company to make less profit -- they're buying it to make more profit. But if they know of a way to make more, money, where's their legal liability for not pursuing this fiduciary duty?

      Isn't a violation of that fiduciary duty to fail to implement a plan that they know will result in increased profits?

      • A lot of the time this happens, it's because management wants to take a more aggressive strategy that shareholders won't support. Nobody has a crystal ball that can guarantee increased profits. If management fundamentally disagrees with ownership about where the company should go, a MBO is usally the result of a lot of meetings where management puts forward proposals and gets repeatedly shot down.

        • by swb (14022)

          So then the board owns the loss of fiduciary duty -- if they are turning down management's initiatives as not in the best interest of shareholders, how do you justify selling out to the same management who will presumably implement those initiatives as being in the best interest of the shareholders?

  • by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:41AM (#37949110)
    Now if we could just get our Western governments to stop using the same bullshit...
  • Yeah, and? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:45AM (#37949164)

    Personally I'm more concerned about this tech being used to track people in Western nations.

  • Ethics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scot4875 (542869) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:46AM (#37949176) Homepage

    Let me just say: fuck Creativity Software and fuck any programmer willing to work for them. There's this thing called 'ethics' and if they choose to violate the most basic premises to enable people to do shit like this, the outcomes are also on *their* heads. None of this "just doing my job" bullshit.

    --Jeremy

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Let me just say: fuck Creativity Software and fuck any programmer willing to work for them. There's this thing called 'ethics' and if they choose to violate the most basic premises to enable people to do shit like this, the outcomes are also on *their* heads. None of this "just doing my job" bullshit.

      This. Take it from someone who worked in a non-tech position at a previous job (hey, it was a recession). That job entailed unethical and somewhat illegal practices against consumers.

      If I had to do it all over again, I'd live in a cardboard box!

    • I am in total agreement with your outrage about unethical business dealings, but I have to wonder how many people, working in a good-paying position at such a company, would actually quit their job if they knew said company was involved in immoral or unethical business practices. Some, probably, but I have no doubt that many would turn a blind eye and sleep quite well at night.
    • It would be quite interesting to see a list of employees of said company. I think some public shaming of the individuals involved might focus some minds wonderfully, from the boardroom downwards.

    • Go protest some more looser while we are laughing our way to then bank. Hope you'll get a kick in the face and a dose of pepper spray.
      • by St.Creed (853824)

        You know, the type of person that works for such companies is a type I've seen before. They tend to surround themselves with similar people: scum that will do anything for a quick buck. People that have such a company on their CV raise a red flag when hiring.

  • by liquidweaver (1988660) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:49AM (#37949214)

    FYI - I couldn't be more against despotic regimes, I don't fly because of the TSA... I'm not an apologist.
    I do; however, have the same question anytime this article runs on Slashdot (Bluecoat /Syria was before this one)
    If you are Ericcson/Cisco/Bluecoat/Juniper/etc, how do you ensure your tech never ends up being used for "evil"?
    Who is evil? Should network filtering equipment be declared munitions and its export controlled? Should they include a killswitch so if it gets in the hands of an evil dictator it can be disabled? Should Nokia do background checks on all potential buyers to try to predict whether or not they are straw purchasers for evil entities?

    Both of those ideas some either really far fetched, impractical, or inethical in themselves... so my question is - if you feel a hatin' rising up after reading this about Ericcson/Nokia - what should they do?

    • Isn't that the line we can always use? The same thing should apply here. Minus the 7-day wait period, of course.

    • Should they include a killswitch so if it gets in the hands of an evil dictator it can be disabled?

      Why not? It would strongly discourage the act. Who cares if you lose sales from it? It surely isn't significant. Then again, why even produce such software? In what case is it appropriate, and in which legitimate case is there no alternate means of achieving the desired goal?

  • Why not turn the tables? I'd love to see a website that tracks the companies that help violate human rights. I'd also like to see it tied to products. In the market for a cell phone? Find out if the maker of your cell phone helps Iran oppress its own people. Or maybe a badge system maintained by Amnesty International, where the badge is displayed if there are no violations, and revoked when something like this comes to light... Let's track the companies that track citizens, and make it easier to put s
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      It would be easier to track companies that don't. Much shorter list.

    • Why not turn the tables? I'd love to see a website that tracks the companies that help violate human rights.

      Julian Assange called...

      • Not leak info from the companies, but provide a list for consumers so they can actively avoid these companies. Different things.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      What counts as "Helps violate human rights?"
      Is not being tracked a human right? What about 911 calls on cells where they can find the location of the call to send help?
      What about Microsoft? I bet those systems run windows.
      Maybe the GNU project if they use Linux and or GCC to write the code?
      Maybe Asus or Foxconn for making the motherboards that the code runs on?
      Maybe Intel and AMD for making the chips that the code runs one?
      Or Seagate for making the hardrives that they use to store the data?
      Or ........
      How in

  • by poity (465672) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:53AM (#37949260)

    Didn't past articles say they were smuggled into Iran by Dubai-based buyers?
    I guess we can have a debate about how many degrees of separation is needed for effective export restrictions, but I don't know how we can ever draw the lines to be reasonable.

  • by Kagato (116051) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:12PM (#37949504)

    Back in WWII IBM's Brazilian division kept working with and suppling IBM's German division. The IBM's Hollerith punch card system was updated to be the workflow system for the holocaust. According to the author of the book IBM and the Holocaust when IBM USA found out IBM Brazil was still working with German division their response was a request no longer to be told of the activities. At the same time IBM was one of the few companies that knew when the D-Day invasion would be as it was actively using computer power to predict the best weather for the invasion.

    • IBM was one of the few companies that knew when the D-Day invasion would be as it was actively using computer power

      Total bollocks. Weather forecasting using artificial means didn't start properly until post-war, let alone IBM being a leader in this field. The reason that the British forecast D-Day correctly, and the Germans didn't, were the availability of surface observations from the North Atlantic. See the short, but wonderful, book by Overlord's Chief Met Officer: J. M. Stagg, Forecast for Overlord

      • by Kagato (116051)

        I take the author at his word that IBM had a contract for weather related activities. It may be more accurate to say they were using tabulating power. That's not to say IBM provided quality output or even useful output, only that they were one of the few entities that knew the date.

        As the old joke goes, Why is it the British don't make computers? Because they have found a way to make them leak oil yet.

  • western corporations are completely amoral entities designed to generate obscene amounts of money
    and would, if not thoroughly regulated by the united states government, export everything from toothpicks to
    nuclear ICBMs to foreign countries just to turn a profit.

    dont like it? use open source. at least then you didnt help finance the company that thinks its ok for despots and tyrants
    to oppress their people, and you're part of something that helps liberate them.
  • It's so silly to condemn tech companies for doing business with "Bad Guys." It's not our (US citizens) job to be world police, and part of that means we don't get to decide who's a big bad government and who's all good (I.E. it's stupid to say any non-white/non-christian-based/non-democratic government is evil). One mans political dissident is another man's terrorist. Sure in some cases it's pretty clear cut (humorist writes funny cartoon about scary dictator who wears funny hat and gets thrown in the sl

  • We should be more worried by Our police tracking US with OUR technology.. Drones in Houston anyone?

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