LONDON – Government snooping into phone networks is extensive worldwide, one of the world’s largest cellphone companies revealed Friday, saying that several countries demand direct access to its networks without warrant or prior notice.
The detailed report from Vodafone, which covers the 29 countries in which it operates in Europe, Africa and Asia, provides the most comprehensive look to date at how governments monitor mobile phone communications. It amounts to a call for a debate on the issue as businesses increasingly worry about being seen as worthy of trust.
The most explosive revelation was that in six countries, authorities require immediate access to an operator’s network – bypassing legal niceties like warrants. It did not name the countries for legal reasons and to safeguard employees working there.
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, the report said.
Vodafone’s report comes a year after former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that U.S. and other countries’ intelligence agencies routinely gather private data belonging to millions of innocent people in America and across the globe.
The revelations have focused attention on the role of Western technology and telecommunications firms, which stand accused of facilitating the mass surveillance by giving spies unrestricted access to their networks.
Historically closer to governments since many were once state-owned, telecoms are much more heavily regulated and have employees on the ground – making them more sensitive to government demands for data.
By making its report public, Vodafone took the unusual step of entering the debate about balancing the rights of privacy against security.