What Your Phone Says About Your Views on Democracy

Posted: April 19, 2011 in Mobile Technology, Politics, Technology, Tools/Gadgets
Tags: , , , , ,

August 18, 2010- http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978453348

Is your phone listening to what you say? What role does your mobile phone play in aiding the government? Have you ever considered which side your phone is on?

In two different countries mobile communications equipment companies are currently under the microscope for two distinct, but very related problems. For Research in Motion (RIM), the popular company which produces the Blackberry, the company stands accused of failing to provide the Indian government with the help it needs to monitor terrorist activity. For Nokia Siemens, it is quite the opposite: they are being sued by a citizen for aiding the Iranian government in ferreting out political dissidents.

In India RIM is in negotiations with the government to find a common ground which would not force RIM to supply the Indian government with access to the corporate email and SMS messages transferred on its Indian networks. RIM is quickly coming up against an August 31st deadline after which time a cease and desist order has been issued, as the New York Times reported, “wireless phone companies said they had received a formal notice from the government to shut off BlackBerry Messenger and corporate e-mail services on Aug. 31.”

RIM, it would seem, is between a rock and a hard place. The rock, in this case, is the enormous potential of the Indian wireless market. The New York Times estimates “there are an estimated one million BlackBerry users here, and the popularity of the devices is growing as more Indians use e-mail and smartphones.” The hard place is its own commitment and reputation as a company which has done more to protect its corporate customers’ privacy. RIM owes its outstanding success, in large part, to the fact that both corporate and government clients believe in its ability to protect the security of their messages. Let us not forget that President Obama has was granted the right to retain his own Blackberry, and has even stepped in to defend the company in this debate.

For the moment, it seems that in order to retain some chance of serving the second wireless market in the world, RIM has conceded to identify corporations whose servers hold readable, or unencrypted, versions of messages. This would then allow Indian authorities to seek access to the messages from the corporation through a court order. Reportedly, Indian authorities are already working to streamline those legal processes to ensure that the government can access the target messages as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, in Iran, Isa Saharkhiz has filed suit against Nokia Siemens for aiding the Iranian government in surveilling its networks to ferret out political dissidents. Saharkhiz claims that cell phone surveillance was instrumental in her arrest in the events following the 2009 presidential election in Iran.

Specifically, Saharkhiz is accusing Nokia Siemens of helping the Iranian government to violate human rights, a charge which aligns with previous claims by Nobel Peace prizewinner Shirin Ebadi, that Nokia Siemens was “sending ‘the Iranian state software and technology that it can use to monitor telephone calls and text messages.’”

A Nokia Siemens spokesperson recently told AFP “We believe that communication and mobile phone technologies play a significant role in the development of societies and the advancement of democracy.” If the American President and his administration are stepping in to attempt to facilitate some type of cooperation between RIM and the Indian government, and Iranian citizens can sue mobile phone companies for conspiring with the government to infringe on human rights, in the modern age, is one’s choice of phone truly also representative of one’s sentiment toward democracy in general?

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