Governments Snooping on Our Phone Calls, Says Vodafone
Vodaphone is one of the largest communication companies in the world, which is why its 419 million subscribers might be somewhat upset to learn that in many countries, the government can legally listen in on their conversations. The British company released a report outlining its cooperation with various world governments, many of which mandate that Vodaphone must share communications whenever requested.
The report details, in more than 8,000 words, how Vodaphone works with nations all around the world to provide landline, mobile, Internet and cable service. While the company is ambivalent about how much power governments exercise over it, it makes no apologies for following local laws.
"In every country in which we operate, we have to abide by the laws of those countries which require us to disclose information about our customers to law enforcement agencies or other government authorities," the report explained. Vodaphone can also restrict content and services based on government intervention.
"Refusal to comply with a country's laws is not an option," the report continued. In addition to losing its ability to provide services, Vodaphone's employees in the country in question could be fined or imprisoned for criminal activity.
The report is staggering in its detail, but generally speaking, Vodaphone provides data to governments in three ways: "mandatory compliance with lawful demands," "emergency and non-routine assistance" and "protecting our customers and networks."
If a government asks Vodaphone for information about a customer and such a request is allowed by local laws, Vodaphone must comply. Vodaphone can also voluntarily supply information if it feels it will benefit the general public, like intercepting communications involving a missing child. Finally, Vodaphone will also provide information about criminal activity such as hacking and scamming in order to protect its customers.
The company also provided a country-by-country list of governmental demands when possible. The United Kingdom, for example, does not allow Vodaphone to disclose any data about its compliance, but most other countries allow Vodaphone to share aggregate numbers. For example: Vodaphone provided 5,778 pieces of communications data to Albania, 48,679 to Spain and 98,765 to Tanzania in 2013 and 2014.
If these numbers concern you, switching your service to another provider might not help: After all, every company that operates in a country must abide by that country's laws. Users who are not engaged in illegal activity have very little to worry about, although the idea that the government can access every phone conversation and email exchange in which they participate may well be unsettling.
In cases like this, users would be wise to take Internet and phone security into their own hands by employing HTTPS protocols and mobile privacy suites.