U.S. Government Has Same Wireless Monitoring Ability as Iran

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.

Reader Comments

James Mason

June 30, 2009 7:41 PM

Ignorant politicians, especially the ones who are wilfully so for their own narrow ideological reasons, are the bane of humanity everywhere!

Strategery

June 30, 2009 8:50 PM

This is not news to me. Not only can the government monitor your cell phone data stream, they know where you are at because newer phones have GPS locators for 'emergencies'. Other phones can be traced via triangulation. Shortly after 911, the government set up infrastructure for monitoring internet traffic, including email. Phones have been quietly tapped for decades now (only the phone line to your house is analog, the rest of the network is digital and can be monitored undetected from a remote location). All of your financial transactions are monitored and reported too (that data travels on the same networks). The government has acres of underground computers to monitor and process this data. Add in satellite imagery and 'security' cameras and you have a big-brother state indeed. In my opinion, the census is pointless because the government already knows who you are, what you do and where you are.

guesswhat

June 30, 2009 10:58 PM

every phone in washington is probably tapped,including their own. wake up.

Hmmm

July 1, 2009 12:22 PM

Read and artical recently that most of the billing for cell phones is handeled by a foriegn controlled company. The foriegn countries intellegence agency has free access to this information, including goverment officials phone records. It's OK because they are an "ally". Dispite the fact that the biggest espionage cases in the last centry have all been traced to this country. I will leave it to the inquisitive reader to connect the dots.

gerrrg

July 1, 2009 8:30 PM

Little by little, all of our freedoms are abdicated.

Mohammad

July 1, 2009 9:24 PM

As a sidenote, monitoring of any form of electronic communications is only allowed by a court order in Iran (See here for more details in Persian: http://tarh.majlis.ir/?Report&RegId=121).

However, intelligence and security agencies apparently ignored the law until a few years ago, when the judiciary stepped up and made sure that no monitoring happens again without a court order. A former judiciary deputy discussed this 4 years ago (Persian): http://www.aftabnews.ir/vdch.vnwt23nxkftd2.html
According to him, the intelligence agencies tried to press them on the issue but the judiciary head Ayatollah Shahroudi stood up and didn't allow them to reverse the reform process.

Eric Blankenburg

July 1, 2009 9:42 PM

Wow, Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham are making fools of themselves? What a big surprise. LOL…

Jim Ledford

July 2, 2009 8:54 AM

I would not say they are making fools of themselves. Any common sense person knows that if you don't have the capability you can't monitor the people's communication. If you were in Iran and trying to elect a free goverment you would not want the goverment listening to your conversation or stopping the picture's coming to the free world. Looks like a Conservative and Liberal both want a Democracy in Iran. You have lived too easy in this "Great Country" which gives every thing away and then we the working people have put up with your ignorance.

shahab

July 3, 2009 10:36 AM

Mohammad wrote that"monitoring of any form of electronic communications is only allowed by a court order in Iran (See here for more details in Persian". Have you been sleeping for the past 4 years not noticing that Khamenei and his gang have not only have no regards for the law but violated every point mentioned in the constitution. And as far as Ayatollah Shahroudi goes he has/has no power in a country run by Revolutionary guards and Khamenei.

FriendyAnil

July 8, 2009 2:48 AM

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FriendyAnil
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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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