Financial News

  • 9 June 2014, 8:43

Vodafone Blows Whistle On State Snooping

Security services should not be snooping on people's data just because it is technically possible, Vodafone has warned in a report that reveals the global extent of government surveillance on the operator's customers.

It called on authorities to submit to "regular scrutiny by an independent authority", and to "amend legislation which enables agencies and authorities to access an operator's communications infrastructure without the knowledge and direct control of the operator".

In some countries, governments have "direct" and "permanent access" to Vodafone's infrastructure - so don't have to make an interception request.

"In our view, it is governments - not communications operators - who hold the primary duty to provide greater transparency on the number of agency and authority demands issued to operators," Vodafone says.

But the company made clear it would continue to comply with the requests, rather than cease its operations in a country: "If we do not comply with a lawful demand for assistance, governments can remove our licence to operate, preventing us from providing services to our customers."

The report breaks down lawful intercept requests and communications data request for the 29 countries in which Vodafone operates.

Nine governments already publish this information. The UK government made 2,760 interception requests and 514, 608 communications data requests to all mobile phone operators in 2013.

By comparison, Italy made 139,962 interception requests in total and 605,601 communications requests to Vodafone alone. In the US, Verizon said it received 321,545 requests for customer information.

Some of the figures are being disclosed by Vodafone for the first time, including those for Spain and Tanzania.

But several countries refused to reveal the number of requests they made, including Egypt, India, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Turkey.

The report also lays bare just how much communications data - often referred to as metadata - can reveal about a person.

"It is possible to learn a great deal about an individual's movements, interest and relationships from an analysis of metadata ? In many countries, agencies and authorities therefore have legal powers to order operators to disclose large volumes of this kind of communications data."

Vodafone said it was publishing the report because "questions have been asked about the role of communications operators such as Vodafone in support of those activities".

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