A textbook example of what democracies should not do was provided last year by a joint venture between Siemens and Nokia, called Nokia Siemens Networks. It sold the Iranian regime a sophisticated system with which they can monitor the internet, including emails, internet phone calls and social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, much used by Iranian protesters. In today's politics of people power, that is the equivalent of selling a dictator tanks or poison gas.
So, to be clear: a German company, Siemens, which used slave labour during the Third Reich, sold a Holocaust-denying president the instruments with which he can persecute young Iranians risking their lives for freedom. Think of that every time you buy something made by Siemens.
When this first hit the news in June, Nokia Siemens stated that they had sold technology that would allow Iran to monitor phone calls rather than Internet usage. The former is mandated in many countries' telephone networks under "lawful intercept" rules, including the US and UK. The latter is not, although the UK Home Office is doing its best with its proposed Intercept Modernisation Programme.
Democratic governments need to think much more carefully before requiring technology companies to develop products that could have an extremely repressive impact in undemocratic regimes lacking human rights protections. They should also update export controls to prevent the sale of these tools to states such as Iran. In the meantime, individuals can help by diverting their business away from companies that are aiding and abetting authoritarian regimes.