Hague Pressured Over Iranian Phone Tracking Tools

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A British company with links to Wiliam Hague, sold mobile phone tracking software to Iran

Foreign secretary William Hague has been put on the spot over his connections to a British firm that sold software to Iran which may have been used to help monitor protesters in that country.

Mobile phones and social media were a major tool in protests in Iran in 2009, a year before the Arab Spring erupted in other Arab nations, with the aid of technology. Iran, however has been using technology to crack down on dissidents using mobile, according to a question from David Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Questions

Baron Alton asked why British firms are allowed to sell such software to Iran and how the government responds to claims by protestors that the software was used against them. He also asked Creativity Software, which sold the mobile phone tracking product, to account for its activities.

“Iranian democracy activists state that during interrogation and torture they have been confronted with complete telephone records of their conversations and with details of their movements intercepted by mobile telephone monitoring devices manufactured in the UK,” Alton said in questions presented on Tuesday.

Creativity Software, based in Kingston-upon-Thames, signed a deal to sell its mobile phone software to MTN Irancell Telecommunications Services, one of the country’s largest mobile phone providers, in August 2009.

Iran’s elections, in June of that year, were accompanied by protests. A journalist, Saeid Pourheydar, who was arrested for dissident activities, told The Daily Telegraph that Creativity Software’s tools had been used by the Iranian government to track him.

“The biggest problem is that with this technology they can find exactly where you are,” Pourheydar told The Telegraph. “You don’t even have to be on the phone, they can simply track you down just through your mobile phone when it is lying on a coffee table.”

The revelation raises questions around the appropriateness of British export laws, as well as around Hague’s personal connections to Creativity Software.

Personal links

Creativity Software is funded in party by venture-capital firm MMC Ventures, whose co-founders, Bruce Macfarlane and Alan Morgan, have both funded Hague’s office. The two contributed funds to pay part of the salary of Chloe Dalton who worked as a researcher for Hague from 2006 to 2009, according to filings with the House of Commons.

Dalton, whose father was an ambassador to Iran from 2002 to 2006, left her role with Hague in 2010 with the formation of the coalition government, moving to a taxpayer-funded job as Hague’s speechwriter.

MMC Ventures declined to comment on the matter.

“MMC Ventures is a minority investor in Creativity Software and as such it would be completely inappropriate for us to comment on the day-to-day running of the company, including the individual contracts that they have, not least for reasons of confidentiality,” the company said in a statement.

According to a report in The Telegraph, Macfarlane declined to comment on his donations to Hague and said the matter was for the government to attend to.

Government controls

“Nothing is exported without UK approval, so you need to talk to the UK government,” he told the paper.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said export laws do not cover Creativity Solutions’ software.

“We take any reports of exports being misused overseas seriously,” the department said in a statement. “The type of software in question is not covered by an export control, and therefore it does not appear that the exporter has broken the law. All controlled exports are reviewed against strict criteria including EU and UN sanctions regimes.”

The Guardian last week reported that the Metropolitan Police had acquired mobile phone monitoring technology enabling it to intercept calls and gather data about users.

The Met’s technology reportedly comes from Leeds-based Datong plc, who also sells the technology to the Ministry of Defence and the US Secret Service.

UK protests

This past summer Research in Motion said it would work with police to help them target protesters using the company’s BlackBerry Messenger service.

The British government has debated measures such as shutting down social networks in order to combat rioters, but in August backed down from such moves.

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