Vodafone Outlines Surveillance Impact

Some of our readers have expressed concerns about the impact of surveillance of communications and network traffic. They view this as a potential problem for business in general, and cloud-based applications in particular.

Vodafone is one of the world’s largest wireless carrier. Last week they released a transparency report detailing, as much as they are allowed to do so, government surveillance of their telephone systems. They say:

This annex to Vodafone’s Law Enforcement Disclosure report seeks to highlight some of the most important legal powers available to government agencies and authorities seeking to access customer communications across the 29 countries of operation covered in this report.

The report says that in six of the countries where they operate, governments have simply plugged into their networks to listen to conversations and internet traffic and can in certain facilities obtain the physical location of cell phone users. Vodafone operates as a wireless carrier and provider of cabled internet access. The company did not name the six companies, because they could lose their license to operate and their employees could be locked up for revealing state secrets
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Deustche Telekom says it will reveal the same data. AT&T and Verizon have revealed rather muted reports.

The separate Vodafone Law Enforcement Disclosure Report is here.

The Vodafone report, as does the AT&T and Verizon reports, lists the aggregate number of surveillance wiretap requests. But since a direct connection to their system collects all data with no warrant, it is not possible to make any measure of that, nor could the company do so without getting into trouble with law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Vodafone’s chief of privacy told The Guardian “These pipes exist, the direct access model exists. He said:

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.

Here are transparency reports from some of the top tech companies:

Apple
Google
Facebook
Microsoft