vodafone transparency report
June 6, 2014

Vodafone Group Releases Transparency Report Hinting At Surveillance Programs

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Vodafone, which is one of the world's largest mobile phone operators, has released a detailed report revealing the scope of government snooping into phone networks. On Friday, the mobile operator's report suggested that authorities in some nations are able to directly access a network without seeking any permission from the carrier.

The report, which is reportedly the first of its kind, covered 29 counties in Africa, Asia and Europe, and provided a comprehensive look at how governments could monitor mobile phone communications of their respective citizens. In a small number of unnamed nations, the authorities could obtain direct access to the network without the need for a warrant.

In at least 10 of those unnamed countries Vodafone said it is a locally licensed operator, and it is also the first to publish this information.

"This is our inaugural Law Enforcement Disclosure Report," Vodafone posted on Friday. "We are also one of the first communications operators in the world to provide a country-by-country analysis of law enforcement demands received based on data gathered from local licensed communications operators. We will update the information disclosed in this report annually. We also expect the contents and focus to evolve over time and would welcome stakeholders’ suggestions as to how they should do so."

While the carrier said it respects the law in each country in which it operates, it also went to "significant lengths to understand those laws and to ensure that (Vodafone) interpret them correctly." These included laws that may be "unpopular or out of step with prevailing public opinion."

The report included a country-by-country breakdown on laws and practices, including those that limit or prohibit disclosure.

"This report is an important step to draw a line between the security bodies of many countries and the mobile operators to combat the perception that wireless operators are in willingly cahoots with the security bodies, but rather that the many telecom providers want to protect the privacy of their users but are forced by law to comply with regulations that violate customer's privacy," Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics, told redOrbit.

The report was also more than just a way for Vodafone to offer the pretext that it was doing all it could while complying with local laws.

"It is more than covering their butts," added Entner, "but standing up for what they see as right while staying within the legal boundaries in the given countries."

While the report sought total transparency in some cases this wasn't completely possible. In several nations, including Albania, Egypt, Hungary, India, Malta, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Turkey it is unlawful to disclose any information related to wiretapping or interception of the content of phone calls and messages. Due to this restriction, Vodafone was unable to disclose information about those countries.

Moreover, because different countries have different methodologies for collecting data, it makes complete comparisons impossible. Some of the totals in the findings included repeat warrants while others had the same warrant issued to a dozen different companies.

The findings of the report follow last year's revelations by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency administrator turned leaker. It could also put pressure on other carriers, notably those in Europe, to provide greater transparency about how requests for data are handled.

"Now would be a good time for other telecoms companies to be transparent about what they are sharing with governments," one European Commission official told the Wall Street Journal.

The Associated Press via the Washington Post also noted that while the United States was not one of the countries assessed in the report, this report could have come at a time when some businesses are continuing to express concern about the use of communication data.