India is one among 29 countries where the government sought access to monitor digital data from its network between April 2013 and March 2014, the mobile phone giant Vodafone has said in a report it released on Friday.
However, Vodafone cannot disclose how many such warrants for disclosure were issued, as Indian laws prevents the company from doing so, according to the Law Enforcement Disclosure Report released by Vodafone.
The report, amongst the first by a corporate group in the mobile phone sector, comes at a time of heightened public sensitivity on the question of digital privacy, itself the fall-out of the string of disclosures by whistle-blower Edward Snowden and others on the secret digital snooping capabilities of governments.
The Vodafode report seeks to address privacy concerns by explaining a) how the company responds to demands for access from agencies and authorities who seek their help in law enforcement and intelligence-gathering activities b) the legal powers invoked by official agencies in each of the countries they work in, and c) the number of demands by each country for access to their network.
“We have to abide by the laws of those countries, which require us to disclose information about our customers to law enforcement agencies or other government authorities, or to block or restrict access to certain services,” the report states. Failure to do so could result government’s revoking their licence to operate.
The report discusses the two categories of law enforcement demands that governments can use. The first, lawful interception, gives a government powers to connect directly into the network, what is also known as wire-tapping. The second is a demand for communications data, or meta data, an analysis of which could provide information on an individual’s movements, relationships, and interests.
In nine countries, including India, it is illegal for Vodaphone to publish the number of law enforcement demands.
In India, for example, it is barred by the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007.
Italy, where the mafia is under intense surveillance, has made the most number of warrants for data – 605601 - in the 29 countries where Vodafone operates.
The report has shocked privacy campaigners.
In a press release, Shami Director of Liberty said: “For governments to access phone calls at the flick of a switch is unprecedented and terrifying. The defeated Snoopers’ Charter tried to take us down this path but Snowden revealed the internet was already treated as fair game. Bluster that all is well is wearing pretty thin – our analogue laws need a digital overhaul.”