Cellular behemoth Vodafone has revealed that a number of governments have “direct access” to its network, collecting mass surveillance on users and allowing them to listen in on calls among other things. The revelation was detailed in the carrier’s first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, a 40,000 word breakdown of what Vodafone is – and isn’t – allowed to say about the monitoring and tracking requirements it faces from agencies like the NSA.
The new report covers 29 of the operating businesses which are directly controlled by Vodafone, including three joint ventures, in Australia, Kenya and Fiji), in which the carrier has been issued with a lawful demand from a law enforcement agency or government authority. It covers a period between April 1st, 2013 and March 31st, 2014.
However, the telecoms firm is limited by exactly what it can, and can’t, reveal about each country’s policies. In some, for instance, even disclosing that the possibility of wiretapping calls and messaging is prohibited.
Most concerning to privacy activists, however, is the fact that in around six countries, Vodafone is required to hand over direct access to its network to governments and security agencies. The carrier either has to provide its own direct access, or permit the government itself access to the infrastructure to install it.
With that access, every call and message can supposedly be monitored, if the security services see fit, without the need for individual warrants from courts. Vodafone has not named the locations in which direct access has been installed.
Although the document is primarily a data driven one, Vodafone also uses the opportunity to criticize privacy laws, the extent to which they allow surveillance, and their inconsistencies between jurisdictions. There is “very little coherence and consistency in law and agency and authority practice,” the carrier points out, “even between neighboring EU Member States.”
Vodafone has also released a part of the document under a creative commons license, in the hope that other carriers will weigh in and add to the database of legislation and access to customer data.