U.K. Urged to Ban Sale to Iran of Software Used to Crush Dissent

The U.K. government should put an embargo on the sale of mobile-phone software to Iran that assists in the tracking, arrest and repression of opposition activists, a senior lawmaker said.

In the House of Lords today, David Alton asked why the sale of such software to Iran is allowed; what the government makes of democracy activists who say it has been used against them; and asked for an accounting of sales to Iran of such gear by Creativity Software Ltd., a British technology company which has had links to Foreign Secretary William Hague.

“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 U.K.,” Alton said in questions presented today.

He asked if the government intends “to permit Creativity Software to continue providing British-made intercept software and equipment to Irancell.”

Creativity Software this year sold a system that enables Iranian law enforcement and security forces to monitor cell phone locations, Bloomberg News reported on Oct. 31 citing three people familiar with the transaction.

Photographer: AFP/Getty Images

Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator with batons during a protest against the election results in Tehran on June 14, 2009. Close

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Photographer: AFP/Getty Images

Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator with batons during a protest against the election results in Tehran on June 14, 2009.

Irancell

For that article, Creativity Software confirmed that it counts mobile-phone operator MTN Irancell Telecommunications Services Co. as a client but declined to discuss sales of any location-tracking gear for law enforcement purposes, saying it would breach contract confidentiality. The company didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment today.

The U.K. firm is among European companies that supplied Iran with location tracking and text-message monitoring gear that can turn mobile phones into tools for surveillance, even as the pariah state pursued a brutal political crackdown, including arrests and executions surrounding its contested 2009 elections, the Bloomberg News investigation showed.

Separately, Alton said Hague should answer questions over his link to Creativity Software, based in Kingston upon Thames.

Before being named foreign secretary, Hague received money from Bruce Macfarlane and Alan Morgan, the managing partner and chairman of MMC Ventures Ltd., to pay for a researcher, according to filings with the House of Commons. MMC Ventures has a stake in Creativity Software.

‘Serious Question’

“The government must have known what this technology was capable of, and if William Hague is linked to a company behind this export that is a very serious question and he needs to answer it,” Alton told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

MMC paid the wages of Chloe Dalton, a researcher in Hague’s office, the filings show. Dalton, whose father was U.K. ambassador to Iran between 2002 and 2006, was appointed to a taxpayer-funded job as Hague’s speechwriter after his Conservative Party formed a coalition government in the U.K. in May 2010.

Hague’s office referred calls about the company to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which said that the government actively discourages all trade with Iran.

“We take any reports of exports being misused overseas seriously,” the department said in an e-mailed 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.”

Export controls are kept under constant review and may be changed in order to meet international standards, the department said.

“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 an e-mailed statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Melissa Pozsgay at mpozsgay@bloomberg.net

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