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article imageVodafone report shows direct access to cables by governments

By Ken Hanly     Jun 7, 2014 in Technology
London - Vodafone the giant UK-based telecommunications company reports that some countries in which it operates have direct access to communications that pass over its networks.
In most countries where Vodafone operates, a warrant is required to intercept communications but there are some countries where police have direct links to customer phone calls and communications via the web. While Vodafone values customer privacy it insists that it is required to comply with laws of a country "designed to protect national security and public safety."
During the pro-democracy protests in Egypt in 2011 on January 27 Vodafone shut down all its voice and data services to Egyptian citizens and corporations when requested to do by the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak.
Vodafone says it could not reveal which countries have direct lines into their networks since those countries had laws that prohibited disclosure of their surveillance methods. Apparently six countries out of the 29 Vodafone serves have such direct access. In its transparency report Vodafone said that in a few countries it "will not receive any form of demand for lawful interception access, as the relevant agencies and authorities already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link." At least the Vodaphone report shows that now internet and telecom companies no longer deny or claim ignorance of their roles in co-operating with global surveillance authorities.
Vodafone and other companies are aware that if they lose customer trust it could hurt their bottom line. The Vodafone report shows that different countries have quite different methods of providing figures on warrants issued which make comparison almost impossible. Some count repeat warrants others do not. Some countries count as different warrants the same warrant issued to different companies, others do not. Other countries simply refused to allow Vodafone to provide any data at all on the warrants they issued. The Vodafone report shows the need for a common method of reporting and requirements that all countries follow the method.
An article in the Guardian points out that Vodafone transparency goes only so far. The report does not clarify or even confirm its participation in Tempora in which the UK Government Communications Headquarters(GCHQ) tapped into the network of cables carrying global phone calls and internet communications. Vodafone maintains that only a very few of its employees would know of the program and if they did they would be legally barred from saying anything about it.
Gus Hosein of Privacy International said that Vodafone's report was to be commended but that "the UK continues to be a black mark on the global map of mass surveillance with GCHQ's tapping directly into Vodafone's cables that carry our communications across the world."
Documents released by Edward Snowden revealed the existence of Tempora: Snowden revealed the two principal components of Tempora are called "Mastering the Internet" (MTI) and "Global Telecoms Exploitation." He claimed that each is intended to collate online and telephone traffic.[4] Tempora extracts and processes data from fibre-optic cable communications. The data is preserved for three days while metadata is kept for thirty days.[1] It is alleged that GCHQ produces larger amounts of metadata than NSA. By May 2012 300 GCHQ analysts and 250 NSA analysts had been assigned to sort data.[4] About 850,000 people have security clearance to access the data.[1] The Guardian claims that no distinction is made in the gathering of data between private citizens and targeted suspects.[4] Tempora is said to include recordings of telephone calls, the content of email messages, Facebook entries and the personal internet history of users. Snowden said of Tempora that "It's not just a U.S. problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight...They [GCHQ] are worse than the U.S."[4]
More about Vodafone, Tempora, Gchq
 

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