Companies "passed on" details of their customers’ phone calls

Quoting information published by various news agencies, an office memorandum of the internal security division of the Union Home Ministry last December alleged that leading telecom firms, including Vodafone and Verizon, were learnt to have shared subscriber details with Britain’s spy agency, Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ).

While the Cabinet has cleared Vodafone’s FDI proposal to increase its stake in its Indian venture to 100 per cent in February, the Home Ministry’s note has been forwarded by the Finance Ministry to the Department of Telecom for appropriate action.

In a statement to the media, Vodafone said the Indian government raised no such concern with it and the government of India’s approval of its FDI application stated that it was cleared by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) after all due diligence.

The company also denied having disclosed any customer data in any jurisdiction, unless it was legally required to do so, and said it complied with the law in all countries of its operations, including the EU Privacy Directive and EU Data Retention Directive in its European businesses.

The issue was raised by the Home Ministry in respect of security clearance for Vodafone India Limited.

Based on news reports, the memorandum said that leading telecom companies were learnt to be passing on details of their customers’ phone calls, email messages and other communication and were known as ‘intercept partners’; that Vodafone and others had given the GCHQ secret, unlimited access to their network of undersea cables, which carried much of the world’s phone calls and internet traffic; that the GCHQ’s mass tapping operation had been built up over the past five years by attaching intercept probes to the transatlantic cables; and that the ‘intercept partners’ were paid for logistics and technical assistance.

Incidentally, based on the documents leaked by the U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, The Guardian last August carried a report that said: “Some of the world’s leading telecoms firms, including BT and Vodafone, are secretly collaborating with Britain’s spy agency GCHQ, and are passing on details of their customers’ phone calls, email messages and Facebook entries.”

The same report carried denials from Vodafone and Verizon.

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