EU targets Iran's Internet snoops
EU countries have banned the sale of Internet-snooping technology to Iran and blacklisted the country's top cyber-censors, while adding a fresh loophole to its oil embargo.
Under the new law - which entered into force on Saturday (24 March) - the sale of "equipment, technology or software which may be used for the monitoring or interception of Internet or telephone communications" and provision of related services is off-limits.
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With social media at the heart of last year's Arab Spring protests and with 'citizen journalists' now using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to get out information on Syrian atrocities, Iran's failed 'Twitter Revolution' of 2009 - mass-scale protests organised using the US-based microblogging site - has been all-but forgotten.
Iran has one of the world's most far-reaching censorship programmes and is regularly named by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based NGO, on its 'Enemies of the Internet' list.
On 6 February it sentenced anti-government blogger Mehdi Khazali to 14 years in prison and 70 lashes - administered using a black leather whip first dipped in water to increase pain. In January, it arrested four people who ran a Facebook beauty contest page for "promoting prostitution."
EU-based companies, such as the UK's Creativity Software and Finnish-German company Nokia Siemens Networks, have in recent years faced embarrassment for allegedly selling relevant hardware and software to Iran.
The list of items now designated by the EU measure includes: "deep packet inspection equipment ... semantic processing engine equipment ... speaker recognition/processing equipment ... pattern recognition and pattern profiling equipment ... semantic processing engine equipment ... [and] WEP and WPA code-breaking equipment."
The EU also put under a visa ban and asset freeze eight officials whose work centers on censorship and propaganda.
The roll-call covers Ezzatollah Zarghami (the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting); Reza Taghipour (minister for information); Toraj Kazemi (a colonel who "recently announced a campaign for the recruitment of government hackers"); Mohammad-Ali Ramin (vice-minister in charge of press); Seyyed Sola Mortazavi (deputy interior minister); and Reza Jafari (a prosecutor specialising in 'cyber-crime').
Two intelligence officers - Gholamhosein Ramezani and Mohamed Sadeghi - were listed as being directly "responsible for the arrests and torture of bloggers/journalists."
Meanwhile, member states also on Friday agreed to let EU companies keep selling shipping insurance for oil tankers until 1 July. They agreed a similar let-off for insurance of petrochemcial product shipments until 1 May.
Reuters reports that "some countries" - the UK is the shipping insurance capital of the world - had pushed for an open-ended insurance let-off, but met with resistance. "If EU member states have decided on an oil ban, it is very difficult for them to go on insuring states who are not abiding by this oil ban," a senior EU official told the news agency.
The EU earlier this year agreed to stop buying oil from Iran from 1 July onward in a bid to harm its suspected nuclear weapons programme.
It also banned dealings with its central bank and Bank Tejarat as well as trade in gold and other precious minerals.
Bank dealing and gold trading can go on if it is not oil-related and if the money does not go to Iranian officials on the EU's blacklists - not easy to prove given the opaque nature of the Iranian administration.