Jim Armitage: Tap into telecoms, and the message is one of skulduggery and snooping

 

It was broadly left to Private Eye to pass a quizzical glance at last week's investment in the UK by the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. The mainstream headlines focused on the 700 jobs being created here rather than the company's somewhat patchy record in persuading other countries to open their doors.

The suspicion in Australia and the US is that Huawei is far too close to the Chinese government. Do we really want to be handing over large swathes of our telecoms infrastructure to an arm of the snooping Chinese government, these countries ask? Whether the Chinese state would stoop so low as to spy on citizens of foreign lands, who knows? Certainly its record on monitoring its own population's communications is hardly unblemished.

Huawei's expansion is a massive story in the US, where its officials were summoned to Capitol Hill recently to prove they weren't all spooks. The politicians – aware of public opinion back in their home states – gave the businessmen a predictably rough ride. As with the select committee hearings in Westminster, you couldn't help feeling they'd kinda' made their own minds up already. In fairness to the pols, Huawei deserves serious scrutiny. It is hardly the most transparent company in the world, and it's not nearly clear enough how much control over it the Politburo really wields.

But before we get too high-minded about whether to trust the Chinese with our phone lines, let's put ourselves on hold for a minute.

One of the biggest human rights scandals in Greece since its return to democracy involved the tapping of more than 100 mobile phones belonging to Greek politicians and senior civil servants in 2004-05. And whose network was involved in that incident? Britain's own Vodafone.

Vodafone is not accused of being complicit in the hacking – in fact, the Greek government blamed the CIA – but one of the company's top executives was discovered dead in an apparent suicide during a badly botched investigation into the affair, and no culprits were ever found.

A similar mysterious fate befell the former head of security at Telecom Italia after it emerged that more than 5,000 Italian journalists, politicians, magistrates and football players had been illegally wire-tapped on its network. Adamo Bove, who discovered the intercepts, died in Naples, falling off a motorway bridge in 2006.

Deutsche Telekom, part-owner of Britain's EverythingEverywhere network, spied on German journalists in 2008 in a scandal that saw its head of security jailed.

But these cases were all fairly localised – unlike that of the Swedish mobiles giant TeliaSonera.

Forget the clichés about Swedes being super-clean paragons of virtue and liberalism. If the widespread rumours and apparent confession by the company are to be believed, TeliaSonera has been colluding with unsavoury regimes right across Eastern Europe. The governments of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Georgia and Kazakhstan have all allegedly been sold high-tech surveillance kit that they have used to spy on journalists, union leaders and members of political opposition parties.

As one TeliaSonera whistleblower alleged: "There's no limit to how much wire-tapping is done, none at all."

The company is also alleged to have sold the governments equipment they dubbed "black boxes", which enabled police and security services to eavesdrop unrestricted on phone calls, internet traffic, text messages and location data.

Among those allegedly bugged were an Azerbaijani journalist who had written about how he was beaten up by government security agents. Another from the country said he was interrogated solely because he unpatriotically voted for Armenia in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest.

Sweden's government, fearing a major political scandal, hauled the company in for a rollocking, and its chief executive sheepishly launched an "action plan" to clean up its operations in non-democratic countries. A spokesman said yesterday the company has to follow the local laws but pointed out that, since the scandal erupted, it has been working with human rights groups to assess the regimes where it operates.

Just how long TeliaSonera's Lars Nyberg stays in as chief executive is unclear, however. This week he had to hold a press conference to fight off a raft of new allegations – this time that his company had bribed its way to winning contracts in Uzbekistan. Mr Nyberg denied the charges and said he would resign if it was proved the company had done wrong.

Meanwhile, one wonders how Aung San Suu Kyi and Co feel about this: TeliaSonera is widely being tipped as a front-runner to win mobile phone licences soon to go up for grabs from Myanmar's military regime.

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
News
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Director of Consulting - Energy Trading Gas, Power - London

£90000 - £110000 per annum + full Package: Harrington Starr: Director of Cons...

Automation Test Manager (C#, C++, VB.NET, QTP, Management)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Automation Test Manager (C#, C++, VB.NET, QTP, M...

Data Quality Analyst (SQL, Excel, Word, Finance, Access)

£20000 - £26000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Qua...

Graduate Developer/QA - (Java, C++, SQL)

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Graduate Developer/QA - (Java, C+...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents