Mobile giant seeks right to reveal wire-tapping

Vodafone is to take a stand on privacy by asking British Ministers, and the governments of each of the 25 countries in which it operates, for the right to disclose the number of demands it receives for wire-tapping and customer data.

In a push back against the use of telecoms networks for mass surveillance, as revealed by the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, Vodafone is to write to the British Home Secretary (Interior Minister), Theresa May, and the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, demanding greater transparency.

“We want all of our customers worldwide to feel they are at liberty to communicate with each other as they see fit, we want our networks to be big and busy, and anything that inhibits people from communicating with each other is very bad for any commercial operator,” said Vodafone’s privacy head, Stephen Deadman.

Vodafone says British law currently prevents it from sharing even general information on wire-tapping. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), discussing the existence of a warrant is punishable by five years in prison.

The company wants to follow digital groups including Google, Microsoft and Facebook in publishing regular transparency reports. U.S. companies have committed to twice-yearly updates on how many surveillance requests they receive from each government around the world, whether those requests are for the content of calls or emails, or for the so-called metadata such as names, addresses, locations, dates and phone numbers.

Vodafone would like to disclose surveillance requests in its annual sustainability report, due to be published in June.

Mr. Deadman said, “Where governments do not and will not disclose, and it is lawful for us to do so, we will disclose our own total aggregate numbers of law-enforcement demands. Where it is not lawful for us to disclose we will say so and we will say what provisions of law apply.” The world’s second-largest mobile phone company, Vodafone operates in more than 25 markets including India, Turkey and South Africa, but the U.K. is among the markets where disclosure is most restricted.

Alongside the requests, Vodafone will publish a set of government surveillance principles, which will be displayed on its website.

The key points, shown to the Guardian, state that Vodafone: — Will not allow access to customer data unless legally obliged to do so — Will not go beyond what is required under the law — Will not accept any instruction from an agency foreign to the country in which it is being asked to allow surveillance — Will challenge requests in law where appropriate — Will honour international human rights standards as much as possible where these conflict with domestic standards.

— © Guardian News & Media 2014