Security services in those countries have been using Stockholm-based telecommunications giant TeliaSonera's systems to facilitate wiretaps, Swedish news agency TT reported Wednesday.
In Azerbaijan, Belarus and Uzbekistan, authorities use a system called SORM, or System for Operative Investigative Activities, that connects to TeliaSonera's system, which then gives authorities complete access to the countries' telecom system, including subscribers' telephone calls, data and text messages. Several arrests have been made from the resulting wiretaps, TT said.
TeliaSonera spokesperson Cecilia Edstrom said, "police authorities have the right to access information from the [Internet] in order to fight crime."
"The laws in the countries go to different lengths in terms of the powers they grant police authorities to fight crime," she said.
Thomas Jonsson, a TeliaSonera spokesman, said different countries have different policies on wiretapping.
"In all countries, including Sweden, security services have the right, under certain circumstances related to fighting and preventing crime, to set up wiretaps and access traffic on the network. That's controlled by national legislation and we need to follow the laws of the countries we're in," Jonsson told the TT news agency.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt supported the contracts, saying, "In general, I think that it's good that we participate in developing telecommunications in different countries. Having a working mobile phone system in Belarus is better for the opposition than for the regime."
Martin Uggla, chair of the human rights organization "The East group for democracy and human rights," called the affair "remarkable and scandalous."
"The information that has come out shows that TeliaSonera's claims that they act in an ethically acceptable manner aren't true," he said.