Vodafone Confirms Letting Some Governments Wiretap Customers Without Warrants

Posted by at 7:17 am on June 6, 2014

The world’s second-largest carrier has revealed its service is being monitored by government agencies. Following the lead of other technology companies in publishing a transparency report, Vodafone claims phone tapping is being widely used by agencies in a number of the 29 countries it operates in, and in some cases, authorities are able to access customer data without even requiring a warrant.

In a report detailing the procedures it carries out when governments make a request for information, The Wall Street Journal notes Vodafone is compelled to authorize tapping on its network as a legal requirement in six countries. The carrier does not state which countries, as it is concerned about potential sanctions and retaliation by the governments involved, but in some instances authorities “already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link.” It does advise that it is unable to disclose details relating to wiretapping or message interception in nine countries, with Albania, Egypt, Hungary, India, Malta, Qatar, Romania, South Africa, and Turkey making it unlawful to do so.

The report goes on to detail what Vodafone is forced to comply with, including disclosing communications-related metadata, storing data for later retrieval, encryption keys, national security orders to block or restrict communications access, and “emergency or crisis powers” that come into power during a major natural disaster or “violent civil unrest.” One public example of the emergency powers governments have over the company was during an Egyptian conflict in 2011, where the government sent text messages to the local population, calling for citizens to help the country’s armed forces.

Vodafone published the report in order to encourage more debate over the methods and reasons behind acts of government surveillance. “The need for governments to balance their duty to protect the state and its citizens against their duty to protect individual privacy is now the focus of a significant global public debate,” writes the carrier. “In our view, it is governments – not communications operators – who hols the primary duty to provide greater transparency on the number of agency and authority demands issued to operators.”

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