Tools of mass communication that were once the province of governments and corporations now fit in your pocket. Cell phones can capture video and send it wirelessly to the Internet. People can send eyewitness accounts, photos and videos, with a few keystrokes, to thousands or even millions via social networking sites. As these technologies have developed, so too has the ability to monitor, filter, censor and block them.
A Wall Street Journal report this week claimed that the “Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale.” The article named Nokia Siemens Networks as the provider of equipment capable of “deep packet inspection.” DPI, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, “enables Internet Service Providers to intercept virtually all of their customers’ Internet activity, including Web surfing data, e-mail and peer-to-peer downloads.”
Nokia Siemens has refuted the allegation, saying in a press release that the company “has provided Lawful Intercept capability solely for the monitoring of local voice calls in Iran.” It is this issue, of what is legal, that must be addressed. “Lawful intercept” means that people can be monitored, located and censored. Global standards need to be adopted that protect the freedom to communicate, to dissent.
Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, a media policy group, says the actions of Iran and China should alert us to domestic surveillance issues in the U.S. He told me: “This technology that monitors everything that goes through the Internet is something that works, it’s readily available, and there’s no legislation in the United States that prevents the U.S. government from employing it. … It’s widely known that the major carriers, particularly AT&T and Verizon, were being asked by the NSA [National Security Agency], by the Bush administration … to deploy off-the-shelf technology made by some of these companies like Cisco.” The equipment formed the backbone of the “warrantless wiretapping” program.
Read more of Amy Goodman’s column on Truthdig.