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Friday 25 July 2014

Vodafone reveals how governments around the world spy on calls

Published 06/06/2014|08:07

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The Vodafone logo is seen at the counter of the shop in Prague February 7, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny
The Vodafone logo is seen at the counter of the shop in Prague February 7, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Secret cables allow government spies in many countries to listen in to conversations on Vodafone’s network, the telecom giant has revealed.

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The company, which is publishing a report on surveillance by governments, said the system was widely used in some of the 29 states where it operates.

The direct-access wires or pipes are connected to its network, allowing conversations to be recorded and mobile phone users to be tracked. In six of the countries, the wires are a legal requirement for telecoms companies.

Stephen Deadman, of Vodafone, told The Guardian: “These pipes exist, the direct-access model exists.

“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 in an important constraint on how the powers are used.”

He said such a system would be illegal in the UK because agencies are supposed to obtain information under a warrant.

“We need to debate how we are balancing the needs of law enforcement with the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens,” he said.

Vodafone called for direct-access wires to be disconnected so that warrants had to be obtained through due process before surveillance could be carried out.

Civil rights groups expressed horror at the revelations.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: “For governments to access phone calls at the flick of a switch is unprecedented and terrifying.

“[Former CIA contractor Edward] Snowden revealed the internet was already treated as fair game. Bluster that all is well is wearing pretty thin – our analogue laws need a digital overhaul.”

Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, said: “These are the nightmare scenarios that we were imagining.

“I never thought that telcos would be so complicit. It’s a brave step by Vodafone and hopefully other telcos will become more brave with disclosure, but what we need is for them to be braver about fighting back against the illegal requests and the laws themselves.”

Independent News Service

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