Scandinavian phone company helps ex-Soviet republics spy on citizens

TeliaSonera CEO Lars NybergBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A highly profitable cellular telecommunications company, which is jointly owned by a Swedish-Finnish public-private consortium, is enabling some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes to spy on their own citizens, according to a new report. TeliaSonera AB, the dominant telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, is currently active in nearly 20 countries around the world. In 2011, it posted a net profit of nearly $3 billion, 25 percent of which came from the company’s operations in countries of the former Soviet Union. They include some of TeliaSonera’s most lucrative franchises, such as Geocell in Georgia, Kcell in Kazakhstan, Ucell in Uzebekistan, Tcell in Tajikistan, and Azercell in Azerbaijan, among others. But a new investigation by Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television AB  (SVT), accuses TeliaSonera of knowingly giving some of the world’s most oppressive governments the means to spy on their own citizens. The report, which is available online in English, effectively states that TeliaSonera is directly complicit in some of the world’s most severe human rights abuses. The accusation is bound to cause embarrassment among senior officials in the Swedish government, which owns nearly 40 percent of TeliaSonera’s stock. The SVT investigation singles out Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, where TeliaSonera operates monopoly cellular networks on behalf of the state, “in exchange for lucrative contracts”. While running the networks, TeliaSonera allegedly grants local intelligence agencies complete and real-time access to the all telephone calls, pen-register data, and content of text messages exchanged by users. This, says the SVT report, has in turn facilitated several arrests of pro-democracy activists and political dissidents in countries like Belarus and Azerbaijan. The report hosts damning testimony by an unnamed former TeliaSonera executive, who alleges that, in Azerbaijan, the Swedish/Finnish conglomerate operated Azercell while fully collaborating with the country’s intelligence agency, which maintained an office in the Azercell headquarters. Referring to the case of Belarus, the former executive told SVT that whenever technical glitches prevented the wholesale monitoring of telephone communications, the security agency would call TeliaSonera technicians asking them “to shut down the network until the problem was solved”. Responding to the report’s criticism, TeliaSonera president and chief executive officer Lars Nyberg (photo) said that the company “firmly believe[s] that access to phone and Internet services contribute to economic growth and an open society” and it is thus “better to have a presence in countries that leave something to be desired with regard to human rights”. Regular intelNews readers will remember that not too long ago another Scandinavian conglomerate, Nokia, was accused of helping set up telecommunications monitoring systems for the governments of Bahrain and Iran. (Research credit:

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

One Response to Scandinavian phone company helps ex-Soviet republics spy on citizens

  1. Kidd says:

    all those folks from that neck of the woods who fought against the nazi’s and the red army , are rolling in their graves. collaborators of another color. uncle joe and father adoph are smiling and proud. “Ja, da, it is all the same”.

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