Tech and Telecom Campaign

UANI launched its "Tech & Telecom Campaign" to highlight the Iranian regime’s misuse of commercial technology and telecommunications equipment to suppress, monitor, and censor its population. In the popular protests that erupted after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, for instance, the regime quelled demonstrations in part by blocking popular communication tools as well as monitoring and tracking the communications of dissidents and demonstrators, who were consequently imprisoned, tortured, and even killed.

A number of companies were subsequently reported to have provided the Iranian regime with surveillance technologies and capabilities used against the Iranian people included Nokia, Siemens, Ericsson, MTN, Huawei, ZTE, Creativity Software, and AdaptiveMobile. Since the 2009 election protests, the regime has worked to perfect the control of its citizens’ communications in order to prevent renewed outbreaks of popular opposition. The Iranian people meanwhile have pursued ways to circumvent the regime’s restrictions on communications.

Responsible businesses and investors working in the communications sector should be aware that the regime will likely misuse their technologies and service to perpetuate its oppressive rule.

Government & IRGC Control of Iran’s Telecommunication Sector

The telecommunication sector is dominated by the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”).

For example, Iran’s only national fixed-line operator, the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), is owned by Etemad-e Mobin, a consortium connected to the IRGC. A TCI subsidiary, Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran (MCI), dominates the Iranian the mobile market.

MTN Irancell, is 51% owned by Iran Electronics Industries (IEI) and the Mostazafan Foundation of Islamic Revolution ("Mostazafan").  Both IEI and Mostazafan are closely linked to the IRGC.  IEI is also an entity sanction-designated by the U.S. for nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses.  Mostazafan is a "Bonyad" organization directly supervised by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

In 2016, the Iranian government launched the first phase of a domestically hosted and state-controlled internet service, referred to as the “National Information Network” (NIN), or informally as “halal internet.” According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “Progress on NIN reflects the continuation of the state’s efforts to restrict Iranians’ access to information by promoting state-approved content… if all available online content in Iran were hosted on servers based inside the country in a controlled environment—as the NIN project appears geared towards—then the Iranian government would theoretically be able to monitor, restrict, and censor all online activity much more efficiently.”

International Firms Subject to Punitive Sanctions

Firms that provide certain technology and telecommunications equipment are liable to be penalized under U.S. sanctions law. Section 106 of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA) specifically calls on the U.S. to ban "procurement of goods or services with a person that exports sensitive technology to Iran." CISADA defines sensitive technology as "hardware, software, telecommunications equipment, or any other technology" that is used to "(A) to restrict the free flow of unbiased information in Iran; or (B) to disrupt, monitor, or otherwise restrict speech of the people of Iran."

The Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (ITRA) expanded the scope of CISADA by adding provisions that impose sanctions on a person that "transfers, or facilitates the transfer of, goods or technologies" "likely to be used by the Government of Iran or any of its agencies or instrumentalities… to commit serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran." This also covers any person that "provides services (including services relating to hardware, software, and specialized information, and professional consulting, engineering, and support services) with respect to [these] goods or technologies."

Following implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal in January 2016, U.S. and EU sanctions on Iran’s human rights abuses remain in place, including a ban on exports to Iran of equipment likely to be used for internal repression and monitoring telecommunications. Penalties for violating these sanctions include being banned from U.S. government contracts.

International firms must also respect the long-standing U.S. embargo against Iran, which makes it a violation of U.S. export control laws and sanctions to sell or supply U.S.-origin equipment and software to Tehran. In March 2017, the U.S. government imposed a record $1.19 billion fine on the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE for “illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea.” With the announcement of the penalty, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. declared, “We are putting the world on notice: the games are over. Those who flout our economic sanctions and export control laws will not go unpunished – they will suffer the harshest of consequences.”

From March 2016 until March 2017, the U.S. Commerce Department had also subjected ZTE to export restrictions on U.S.-made equipment, but due to ZTE’s cooperation with U.S. authorities, those restrictions were suspended in a series of three-month reprieves and never implemented. If they had been, it would have severely disrupted ZTE’s supply chain and potentially dealt a fatal blow to the company. ZTE paid a heavy cost, nonetheless, posting net revenue losses in 2016, sacking key corporate leadership, and sending its stock price tumbling.

ZTE’s larger Chinese rival, Huawei, is now in the crosshairs of U.S. investigators, with evidence mounting that it similarly violated U.S. export controls on Iran and other sanctioned countries.

Complicit Companies Telecommunications

  • MTN of South Africa is a 49% shareholder of MTN Irancell, the second largest mobile phone network operator in Iran. The majority 51% is in turn owned by the Iranian regime, which has exploited the MTN Irancell network and technology to monitor and track the activities and communications of peaceful dissidents in Iran. MTN Irancell, for example, has reportedly shared user location data with the regime, and ordered the suspension of text messaging and Skype during protests against the disupted Iranian presidential elections in 2009.

    Click here to learn more about UANI’s campaign.

  • Ericsson of Sweden provided a mobile-positioning center to Iran in 2009 that can be used to track cellphone users. Ericsson continues to maintain the center but in October 2010 stated it would no longer pursue new business in Iran due to tightening sanctions. New reports, however, show that Ericsson plans to extend its network in Iran and has pledged to support MTN Irancell until 2021.

    Click here to learn more about UANI’s campaign.

  • As part of a $130.6 million contract signed in December 2010, ZTE of China sold an advanced surveillance system to the IRGC-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) that enables the Iranian regime to monitor the voice, text messaging and internet communications of its citizens. TCI possesses a near monopoly on landline telephone services and internet traffic in the country. Shortly after UANI's campaign, ZTE announced that it "no longer seeks new customers in Iran and limits business activities with existing customers." UANI continues to call ZTE for its complete exit from Iran.

    Click here to learn more about UANI’s campaign.

  • The telecommunications technology of Huawei of China has been used by the Iranian regime to conduct surveillance on its citizens, and track down human rights activists and dissidents. Following discussions with UANI, Huawei announced in December 2011 that it would stop seeking new business in Iran and limit existing business. UANI applauded Huawei's decision but continues to call for a full pullout from Iran.

    Click here to learn more about UANI’s campaign.

  • By monitoring and blocking communications, the technology of Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), a joint venture between Nokia of Finland and Siemens of Germany, was used to suppress protesters in the brutal crackdown that followed Iran’s disputed June 2009 presidential elections. Due to widespread public condemnation, NSN stopped work on its "monitoring centers" in Iran but continued to do business in the country. Following Huawei’s decision to pull back, NSN announced it would not take on any new business in Iran and would gradually reduce its existing commitments. UANI applauded NSN’s decision but continues to call for a full NSN and Nokia pullout from Iran.

    Click here to learn more about UANI’s campaign.

  • Orange has had long-standing business ties with Iran. Orange’s subsidiaries have provided services to U.S. and E.U. sanctioned entities, including Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Sofrecom S.A., an Orange subsidiary, has also provided technical and management assistance to the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) of which a controlling stake is owned by Etemad-e Mobin, an IRGC-affiliated consortium. Orange is also in talks to buy Iran’s largest cellular operator Mobile Telecommunication Co. of Iran, a subsidiary of IRGC-affiliated TCI.

  • British telecom firm Creativity Software has done business in Iran through a partnership with regime-controlled MTN Irancell, a firm known to illegally monitor and track Iranian citizens. In 2011, Creativity reportedly sold MTN Irancell a location-tracking system that can track a target's movement every 15 seconds and plot the locations on a map.

    Click here to learn more about UANI’s campaign.

  • Blue Coat Systems is a U.S. telecom company whose products can be used for surveillance purposes such as web filtering and traffic analysis. Six Blue Coat devices have reportedly been found in Iran, each one capable of monitoring thousands of users. Among them, one is present on the Information Technology Co. network, owned and operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

  • Following discussions with UANI, Irish telecommunications firm AdaptiveMobile announced to UANI that it ended all business in Iran and terminated its contracts with MTN Irancell. In 2008 AdaptiveMobile sold technology to Iran that filters, blocks and stores text messages. Text message monitoring was required by Iranian security forces.

Satellite Broadcasting

  • In October 2012, following UANI’s campaign, French satellite provider Eutelsat and British telecom firm Arqiva terminated their contract with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) to broadcast 19 television and radio stations. UANI had called on Eutelsat and Arqiva to cease all services to IRIB given its use as a propaganda tool to televise "show trials" as well as the interrogation and coerced statements of Iranians unjustly imprisoned and tortured by the regime. In February 2014, Eutelsat restarted its transmission of IRIB broadcasts after the Obama administration waived sanctions on the Iranian state broadcaster.

  • In December 2012, in response to UANI's campaign, Spanish satellite operator Hispasat ended its broadcasting of Iranian regime programming. Specifically, Hispasat ceased transmissions of the Iranian channels Press TV and HispanTV. In June 2014, Hispasat renewed its transmissions of the Spanish-language IRIB channel HispanTV after the Obama administration waived sanctions on IRIB in February 2014.

  • Following discussions with UANI, Canadian global satellite operator Telesat announced that it had ended its broadcast of Iranian regime programming and would refrain from business with the Government of Iran and affiliated entities.

  • Following discussions with UANI, Hong Kong global satellite operator AsiaSat announced that it had ended its broadcast of Iranian regime programming and would refrain from business with the Government of Iran and affiliated entities.


  • Launched a campaign calling on South Korean electronics firm LG to stop selling surveillance products to Iran through regime-controlled entities.

    Click here to learn more about UANI’s campaign.

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