Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on June 30, 2009
It’s hard to tell whether the problem is ignorance or hypocrisy, but Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are making fools of themselves with their war on Nokia Siemens for supplying the Iranian government with equipment that lets authorities monitor wireless phone calls and data transmissions.
The two senators have called on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to pressure the European Union to stop telcom sales to Iran. They also said they would introduce legislation that would bar U.S. government contracts to companies that sell Iran equipment that facilitate monitoring.
There’s one little problem. Such monitoring capability is required in wireless gear by virtually all governments and it is part of the GSM Assn. and European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards. In the U.S., the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA) requires that all wireless carriers provide the technological means for law enforcement authorities to tap wireless accounts. In theory, of course, such taps in the U.S. require a court order. In practice, we know that this requirement has not always been met. We don’t know if Schumer, then in the House, voted for CALEA; it was sufficiently uncontroversial that it passed on a voice vote. Graham didn’t enter congress until 1995.
U.S. firms are generally barred from selling much of anything to Iran under unilateral sanctions that have been in place for more than 25 years. But if they did, gear from Motorola or Lucent would have the same capabilities provided by Nokia Siemens.