After the Belarusian presidential election in December 2010, 50 000 people gathered at Independence square in central Minsk to protest against election fraud. Many were arrested and beaten. The operator Life later gave out information to the Belarusian authorities about the identity of people who were on the square (those who had their cell phones with them). Life is owned by Turkcell, which is partially owned by Telia Sonera. Telia Sonera is partially a private company and partially owned by the Swedish state.
Ericsson’s equipment gives the Belarusian authorities the possibility to so called ‘deep packet inspection’, which mean qualitative analyzing of the data communication writes the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN).
Both Telia Sonera and Ericsson sell different kinds of products and services to Belarus, they also maintain and provide ordinary cell phone communication networks.
Lars Nyberg, CEO at Telia Sonera says to DN that the main responsibility for protecting human rights and promote democracy lays on the political level and that they as a company need to follow the laws and regulations in the countries where they work. He says that they cannot play the role that governments should take. He also says that the mobile networks do more good than wrong and refers to the Arab Spring, when social media played a big role.
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt does not want to comment on the Swedish telecommunication companies business in Belarus but he makes a general comment:
“In general I believe it is good that we are part of the development of telecommunication in different countries. The fact that there exist mobile telephone networks in Belarus is better for the opposition than for the regime.”
Bildt also says that there is a difference between export of communication networks and equipment that can be used for surveillance. The EU has a ban on the latter when it comes to Syria and Iran. But according to Bildt there are no clear boundaries between the different kinds of equipment, and the same kind of equipment can be used for different purposes.
The municipal commissionaire in Stockholm, Madelein Sjöstedt, says to DN that Stockholm might choose another operator than Telia Sonera for the city’s official tele communications.
“There seems to be unawareness at Telia Sonera about what kind of countries they act in. I hadn’t expected that from a Swedish company. (…).I think we should consider introducing a human right’s article” she says to the public service broadcaster Sveriges Radio.
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