Vodafone report sparks global surveillance debate
New York: Telecommunications company Vodafone's report on government surveillance of its customers in 29 countries reveals more than first meets the eye and is raising questions from Dublin to Delhi about how much spying on email and telephone chats happens in secret.
In Friday's report Vodafone said most countries required the company's knowledge and cooperation to hear phone calls or see emails, but at least six governments have given their security agencies the power of direct access.
Vodafone didn't identify the countries that have tapped into its network, but the report provided some clues. An 88-page appendix reveals that five countries - Albania, Egypt, Hungary, Ireland and Qatar - have provisions that allow authorities to demand unfettered access.
In vague language, the report also indicated similar powers could exist in India and the United Kingdom, too.
In too many cases, Vodafone said, governments kept both the company and wider society in the dark about what was happening, with laws explicitly forbidding government disclosure of any details of its electronic eavesdropping.
In developing countries such as Congo, Ghana and Lesotho, Vodafone said it cannot support wiretapping, because governments haven't requested the technology.
By publishing its report, and highlighting its efforts to seek explanations from governments, Vodafone is entering the international debate about balancing the rights of privacy against security.
Rather than being stuck with responsibility and backlash when citizens realize their data has been scooped up without their permission, Vodafone is pushing for a debate.
"The government always argues that they have to weigh freedom and security, and security always overrides freedom," said Gautam Navlakha, an activist in India for the Delhi-based People's Union for Democratic Rights.
Vodafone's report comes one year after former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that US and other countries' intelligence agencies indiscriminately gathered and stored data from phone calls and Internet communications.
Twitter Inc., LinkedIn Corp., AOL Inc., Google Inc., Apple Inc., Yahoo Inc., Facebook Inc. And Microsoft Corp. Are pushing for tighter controls over electronic espionage in hopes of protecting their industry's livelihood.