Vodafone report reveals extent of government info requests
Law Enforcement Disclosure Report: Irish Government’s refusal to confirm lawful intercepts
6 June 2014 | 0
In an unprecedented move, Vodafone has released details of government eavesdropping on communications in 29 countries.
In its “Law Enforcement Disclosure Report”, Vodafone describes how it complies with the requirements of various governments “which require us to disclose information about our customers to law enforcement agencies or other government authorities, or to block or restrict access to certain services”.
“Our customers have a right to privacy which is enshrined in international human rights law and standards and enacted through national laws. Respecting that right is one of our highest priorities: it is integral to the Vodafone Code of Conduct which everyone who works for us has to follow at all times,” said Vodafone.
The report states that “refusal to comply with a country’s laws is not an option”, and says that Vodafone’s licence to operate would be put at risk, as well as potential sanctions against employees, in a territory where the company did not comply.
Ireland is included in the disclosure report, which quotes Postal and Telecommunications Acts from 1983, 1999 and 2009, as well as the Communications Act of 2011, as the legal frameworks by which the Irish Government can make requests for information and intercepts.
Vodafone said that it has complied with 4,124 request for “Communications Data”, but under the heading of “Lawful Interceptions”, the report says that “Whilst local laws do not expressly prohibit disclosure, we asked the authorities for guidance and have been informed that we cannot disclose this information”.
This is a first for telecommunications companies, and shows the pressure that the sector is experiencing ever since the revelations of the US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programmes by Edward Snowden last year.
Despite European legislation on rights to privacy, it seems many individual governments go far beyond these strictures in gathering information on citizenry.
Vodafone said that its reasons for compiling and publishing the report was to explain the principles, policies and processes that were being followed when responding to demands from agencies and authorities which it is required to assist with law enforcement and intelligence-gathering activities, but also to explain the nature of the legal powers invoked by agencies and authorities in countries where it operates.
The report goes on to say that Vodafone wanted to disclose the aggregate number of demands received over the last year in each country of operation “unless prohibited from doing so or unless a government or other public body already discloses such information”.
“Compiling this report has been a very complex and challenging endeavour,” said Vodafone. “Given the sensitivity of any discussion of agency or authority activity in certain countries, it has also not been without risk. We set out to create a single disclosure report covering 29 countries on a coherent basis.”
The report is critical of EU member states which, despite overarching legislation, show little consistency or coherence in laws and practices.
“After months of detailed analysis, it has become clear that there is, in fact, very little coherence and consistency in law and agency and authority practice, even between neighbouring EU Member States,” says the report.
“There are also highly divergent views between governments on the most appropriate response to public demands for greater transparency, and public attitudes in response to government surveillance allegations can also vary greatly from one country to another.”
The tone of the report is very much one of frustration. It betrays an industry at odds with government demands one the one hand, and duty to customers on the other, with ethical statements of service and policy caught in the middle.
With this frank and critical report, Vodafone has to a certain extent, indemnified itself from consumer criticism while at the same time fuelling the debate around government eavesdropping on ordinary citizens.