Monitoring the Opposition: Siemens Allegedly Sold Surveillance Gear to Syria

German engineering giant Siemens and a spinoff company allegedly sold surveillance technology to the Syrian regime, according to a German television report. The government could be using the equipment to crack down on opposition supporters, human rights activists warn.

A screenshot of a YouTube video shows a Syrian demonstration last month. Zoom
DPA

A screenshot of a YouTube video shows a Syrian demonstration last month.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is under increasing international pressure to stop the crackdown on the uprising in his country, but reportedly continues to use torture and other brutal methods against rebel forces. Germany is among the nations who have called for an end to the bloodshed there, but a new report has revealed that one of the country's biggest companies apparently sold technology to Syria that could be used to spy on the opposition.

German industrial giant Siemens sold network surveillance technology to the Syrian regime in 2000, public broadcaster ARD reported on Tuesday night. According to their news show "Fakt," a product called the "Monitoring Center" was delivered to Syrian mobile communications company Syriatel. Nokia Siemens Networks confirmed the delivery, they reported.

The corresponding business division at Siemens became the new joint venture Nokia Siemens Networks in 2007. The following year, that company signed a contract with Syrian landline provider STE, a deal that also included the "Monitoring Center." These contracts were then transferred in March 2009 to the Nokia Siemens Networks spin-off company Trovicor, which took over the "Voice and Data Recording" division, ARD reported, citing documents they had obtained.

Opposition Faces Torture

The Munich-based company Trovicor, which belongs to a financial investor today, declined to comment on the issue, "Fakt" reported. But a human rights activist from Amnesty International told the show that the systematic online surveillance by Syrian security forces was likely playing a role in the capture of opposition members, who face torture after their arrest.

Trovicor's website describes the "Trovicor Monitoring Center" as broadly effective and tailor-made to the "complex needs" of international security and law enforcement agencies. "Its usage spans from intercept of communications in fixed and mobile networks to next generation networking and Internet," it says. Furthermore, the system is expandable. "Popular applications are e.g.: location tracking, speaker recognition and language identification and link analysis," the site continues.

Internet freedom activist and Pirate Party member Stephan Urbach criticized the export of surveillance technology from Germany. "We need a broader debate about the ethical responsibility of companies," he said in a statement. "The German government has completely missed this debate, particularly in the wake of revelations about such filtering and surveillance systems." If it becomes unambiguously clear that German companies have delivered surveillance technology to totalitarian states, Berlin must "swiftly correct this failure," he added.

Spy Gear Used in Bahrain Too

Trovicor made the news in August 2011 too, when Bloomberg Markets magazine reported the company had sold monitoring systems to Bahrain, which allegedly used it to crack down on political dissidents. At the time, Trovicor reportedly said that contractual obligations prevented it from revealing where and to whom it had sold the spy technology. The question of whether the same Trovicor technology sold to European Union countries might also have been delivered to authoritarian regimes also went unanswered.

Siemens hasn't been the only company in the world to allegedly provide spy gear to Syria and other brutal regimes, though. Last October, the US firm Blue Coat Systems acknowledged that at least 13 of its web blocking devices -- initially destined for Iraq -- had somehow made their way to Syria, where they were being used in the regime's crackdown.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began some 13 months ago. In the latest development, Syrian troops have defied a UN cease-fire plan that had been described by special envoy Kofi Annan as the only chance for peace in the country.

kla -- with wire reports

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