Vodafone reveals how governments around the world intercept calls and messages
First ever global survey by a telecoms company reveals the existence of wire taps allowing "permanent access" to calls and messages without a warrant
James Vincent is Science and Technology Reporter for The Independent online, and his work appears in print too. In the past he has written freelance for Wired, the New Statesman and the Financial Times.
Friday 06 June 2014
Secret cables allow government spies in many countries to listen in to conversations on Vodafone’s network, the telecom giant has revealed.
The company’s first ever Law Enforcement Disclosure Report detailed the legal interception of various types of content (from messages and phone calls to metadata such as call time and location) for the 29 countries in which it operates.
The direct-access wires or pipes are connected to its network, allowing conversations to be recorded and mobile phone users to be tracked. In six of the countries, the wires are a legal requirement for telecoms companies.
Vodafone did not reveal the countries have such permanent access for fear of retaliation against its staff, but called upon governments to change “legislation which enables agencies and authorities to access an operator’s communications infrastructure without the knowledge and direct control of the operator".
“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,” said the British telecommunications company.
“If we do not comply with a lawful demand for assistance, governments can remove our license to operate, preventing us from providing services to our customers,” the company added.
Stephen Deadman, of Vodafone, told The Guardian: “These pipes exist, the direct-access model exists. We are making a call to end direct access as a means of government agencies obtaining people’s communication data.
“Without an official warrant, there is no external visibility. If we receive a demand we can push back against the agency. The fact that a government has to issue a piece of paper in an important constraint on how the powers are used.”
He said such a system would be illegal in the UK because agencies are supposed to obtain information under a warrant, adding "we need to debate how we are balancing the needs of law enforcement with the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens."
Vodafone called for direct-access wires to be disconnected so that warrants had to be obtained through due process before surveillance could be carried out while civil rights groups expressed horror at the revelations.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: “For governments to access phone calls at the flick of a switch is unprecedented and terrifying.
“[Former CIA contractor Edward] Snowden revealed the internet was already treated as fair game. Bluster that all is well is wearing pretty thin – our analogue laws need a digital overhaul.”
Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, said: “These are the nightmare scenarios that we were imagining.
“I never thought that telcos would be so complicit. It’s a brave step by Vodafone and hopefully other telcos will become more brave with disclosure, but what we need is for them to be braver about fighting back against the illegal requests and the laws themselves.”
In the UK, the government made 2,760 request to intercept messages directly and 514,608 requests for metadata. Vodafone made it clear that direct-access wire taps would be illegal in Britain as they sidestep the need for a warrant, but the UK’s method of counting data requests could be misleading, with individual warrants able to be applied to multiple individuals.
In comparison with the UK, Ireland refused to publish any statistics for data requests, while it was revealed that Italian law enforcement made 140,577 requests for direct interceptions– a figure that dwarfs the UK’s due to the country’s battle against the Mafia.
After Italy, the Czech Republic made the most requests for metadata in the EU (195, 504) with Australia topping the charts globally (685, 757 requests).
Vodafone warned that although metadata requests may seem more benign than direct intercepts “it is possible to learn a great deal about an individual’s movements, interest and relationships from an analysis of metadata.”
Life & Style blogs
Movie pirate given almost 3 years in prison for filming Fast & Furious 6 in back of cinema
What is ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge?
Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for pageant
Doctors tell Treasury of their anger at rejection of pay reviews
Tickets for Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in London are not on ‘sale’
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
- 1 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 2 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for pageant
- 3 Crystal Palace next manager latest: Palace consider Ally McCoist - EXCLUSIVE
- 4 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 5 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C#.NET VB6 Developer (Software Developer, Softwa...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...