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Vodafone reveals extent of government surveillance

Vodafone has admitted government agencies can track your phone conversations and location without search warrants using special cables.

The network provider has published its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, which details how the goverments in different locations across the world are capable of spying on its citizens.

Apparently, secret wires are connected to the networks of Vodafone and other network providers to give governments the ability to tap into broadband and phone traffic.

Vodafone goes so far as to say that in many countries it is actually mandatory for telecoms companies to provide this ability to government agencies.

“These pipes exist, the direct access model exists”, said Stephen Deadman, Vodafone’s privacy officer to the Guardian. “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.”

Of the 29 countries Vodafone currently operates in, each one has different laws demanding direct access to information about customers.

“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 Vodafone.

However, Vodafone did add that refusing to comply with these laws is “not an option”, as the countries could then stop them operating within that location.

“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.”

Nine of the 29 countries already disclose the aforementioned information, including the UK, US and Italy. Apparently the UK government made 2760 interception requests and 514,608 communications data requests to mobile operators in 2013.

Several countries refuse to reveal their request numbers though, including South Africa, Turkey, India, Egypt and Qatar.

“It is possible to learn a great deal about an individual’s movements, interests and relationsips from an analysis of metadata,” added Vodafone in the report. “In many countries, agencies and authorities therefore have legal powers to order operators to disclose large volumes of this kind of communications data.”

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