Vodafone, the world’s largest international mobile provider, released its “Law Enforcement Disclosure Report” today, which gives statistics on user data requests in 14 countries including Albania, Tanzania, Hungary, and other jurisdictions that have never before released this type of information.
The company also reveals new black holes of the surveillance regime, where governments tap directly into Vodafone’s networks. We applaud the company for calling on governments to end the unfettered, direct access to their networks.
“Vodafone’s report confirms what we’ve always feared. Authorities are vacuuming up user data — legally or otherwise — straight from the company’s lines through a virtual backdoor to our private lives,” said Access Policy Counsel Peter Micek.
In 2012, the Access community petitioned Vodafone to release this data, demanding a transparency report at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting. We are pleased to see Vodafone respond to this call with a thoughtful investigation of its role in the surveillance practices of a diverse set of governments.
“Access is pleased to see Vodafone respond to its customers’ need for greater transparency and protection of their privacy. Access welcomes Vodafone’s innovation of documenting the restrictions and direct access requirements that various governments place on the company, and we call on all telcos to do the same for each of the countries in which they operate,” said Micek.
Vodafone begins its transparency report by acknowledging the impact of mass surveillance disclosures, stating that the Snowden revelations “triggered a significant public debate about the transparency, proportionality, and legitimacy — even lawfulness” of government surveillance practices. Today’s report is an important and much needed contribution to that debate.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in transparency reporting, but Vodafone has differentiated itself from the pack by focusing its report on the context around the handover of user data and not just reporting the statistics,” continued Micek.
We also note the many countries like Ireland, India, Qatar, Romania, South Africa, and Turkey where the government refused to reveal the number of certain requests made to the company.
While some gaps in Vodafone’s reporting remain, due to legal barriers as well as corporate choices, in a sector that had traditionally left the public in the dark about its operations, this data shines new light on how user privacy is, and at times is not, respected online.