Vodafone granted governments direct access to its networks for surveillance

Vodafone revealed the access in its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, but did not name the countries involved

Vodafone has granted governments direct access to its networks in several countries, allowing them to listen to all conversations on those networks, the company said Friday.

Vodafone Group received lawful demands for assistance from a law enforcement agency or government authority in 29 countries between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, it said in its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report.

In most of those countries, Vodafone said it maintains full operational control over the technical infrastructure used to enable lawful interception.

"However, 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. In those countries, Vodafone will not receive any form of demand for lawful interception access as the relevant agencies and authorities already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link," Vodafone said.

Vodafone didn't name the countries that have direct access to its network because the law in some countries forbids it from disclosing the taps, while other countries might imprison its staff as a result of any disclosure, a Vodafone spokesman.

However, the report however did list the countries that could require direct access to operators' networks.

The law in Qatar and Hungary provides for direct access to operators' networks, for instance, while in Greece access could be ordered by the Greek Parliament in the event of war. Ireland also seems to have the power to allow direct access to telecommunications operators networks, Vodafone said. In Portugal, direct access is a possibility under the terms of the Portuguese Criminal Proceedings Code, while in the U.K. there is the possibility to permit government direct access to Vodafone's network by the Security Services in some instances, it said.

Vodafone also disclosed the number of lawful interceptions on a country-by-country basis whenever possible. In Egypt, Hungary, India, Malta, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Turkey it is unlawful to disclose any aspect of how lawful interception or access to communications data are conducted, according to Vodafone's report.

It showed for example that in Spain Vodafone processed 24,212 lawful interception requests while in Italy 605,601 requests for communications metadata were made.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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