Vodafone, the world’s second largest mobile phone company, revealed today that government agencies are able to listen to phone conversations live and track the location of citizens without warrants. This is done by using secret cables connected directly to the network equipment, and is the latest chapter in an on-going series of government disclosure – almost exactly a year after Edward Snowden revealed the extent of an international surveillance grid monitoring your every digital footprint.
The revelations are contained within a 40,000 word document published today, designed to shed light on surveillance in the 29 countries that Vodafone operates in worldwide. Countries like Albania, Egypt, Hungary, India, Malta, Qatar, Romania, South Africa, and Turkey all prohibit carriers to disclose any details of wiretapping, thus Vodafone isn’t revealing the exact details of the governments involved in monitoring communications.
Vodafone says most governments need “legal notices” to access its networks, but there are six nations – which is says it cannot name for legal reasons – that have direct access. The report says in those countries authorities have inserted their own equipment into the network or have diverted all data through government systems so they can permanently access customers’ communications.
“In a small number of countries the law dictates that specific agencies and authorities must have direct access to an operator’s network, bypassing any form of operational control over lawful interception on the part of the operator,” the company said.
Australia – which has more than 5 million Vodafone customers – made 685,757 requests for details about calls according to data collected by the Guardian Australia. Of these calls, 3,389 were intercepted – revealing information such as where the caller was, who they were calling and what was discussed.
Vodafone are calling for an end to direct and warrantless interception by government agencies – with Group Privacy Officer, Stephen Deadman, telling the Guardian that the cables do exist and the accountability for such actions must be upheld.
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 is an important constraint on how powers are used.
The company is calling for an open debate on how the needs of law enforcement are balancing with the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International commended Vodafone on the actions,
While governments have starved this debate over surveillance by saying nothing and denying everything, some companies have acted more responsibly by bringing data to the table,” said Mr. Hosein.
Vodafone is taking a commendable step by taking this issue on at an international scale.
This information comes almost a year to-the-date after Edward Snowden leaked the most significant archive of classified documents in US history since the Pentagon Papers. Amongst the revelations of NSA spying and ‘Orwellian’ surveillance reach, the documents also revealed a connection detailing Australian intelligence organisations and their role in a global network of data monitoring, collecting and sharing.
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Erosion of Privacy in Australia – Basic facts you need to know: http://tottnews.com/2014/01/23/erosion-of-privacy-in-australia-basic-facts-you-need-to-know/
Edward Snowden reveals Australia’s link to US spy web: http://www.smh.com.au/world/snowden-reveals-australias-links-to-us-spy-web-20130708-2plyg.html
PRISM: the Australian connection: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-28/brissenden-data-practice/4786782
Australia gets ‘deluge’ of US secret data, prompting a new data facility: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/it-pro/government-it/australia-gets-deluge-of-us-secret-data-prompting-a-new-data-facility-20130612-2o4kf.html