Business Technology

Thursday 18 January 2018

ISPs differ in attitude to State requests for details

Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Last week, Vodafone revealed the scale of the Government's efforts to find out more about who we call, text and email. It said that it received 4,124 requests from Irish authorities for 'data' connected to its users' accounts last year. It also said that it received an undisclosed number of further requests for "lawful interception", meaning listening in to calls, voice messages or reading messages.

It did not say what these requests related to, although it is understood they were part of criminal investigations as Vodafone says they require official warrants to allow authorities access to the information.

But Vodafone is not the only company giving us a clearer picture of the State's attempts to use communications firms' records for information-gathering purposes. Web, email and social media companies are facing increasing requests from Irish authorities for data that can be used for a number of reasons.

Neither the State nor web companies provide a public breakdown of what exactly the requests relate to, but spokesmen for the companies involved suggest that these are generally associated with criminal investigations. (A spokesman for Vodafone suggested that some requests relate to non-criminal issues, such as missing persons requests.)

Last year, Irish authorities made 98 requests of Microsoft relating to 150 different user accounts, including Hotmail and Skype. The company says that it complied with 57pc of the requests, meaning that it handed over at least partial information relating to the requests. This may have included details about the account itself rather than the content of, say, a Hotmail message or a Skype message.

In the same period, Facebook received 69 requests here relating to 76 Facebook accounts with a 67pc compliance rate, using the same caveats relating to 'compliance'.

Yahoo received 47 requests relating to 47 accounts with over half of the requests bearing some information, while Google had just 15 requests from Irish authorities relating to 51 user accounts. Proportionately, requests to Google bore scant success for the authorities here with just a 27pc hit rate for information returned.

However, the State appeared to have little interest in inquiring after Irish citizens' Twitter or LinkedIn accounts. Twitter reported "under 10" requests here last year, while LinkedIn said that Irish authorities asked for details just once during the same time period. The professional networking service declined the request.

Much of this information has begun to be released after telecoms and web companies reacted to revelations about how their networks were being used by state authorities to spy on their customers. It is a year since US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden unveiled the extent to which US and UK authorities hack into mainstream phone, internet and messaging services to spy on everyday communications.

But while Vodafone and the big web firms have disclosed some information about what our Government is seeking in relation to our communications accounts, other telecoms firms here have not followed suit.

Eircom, 3 Ireland and UPC declined to offer details of their co-operation with state requests for data relating to customer accounts.

Comparatively, Ireland sits mid-table in how countries' governments look for information about what phone and broadband firms' customers are up to.

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