Vodafone Challenged to Release Transparency Report

NEW YORK — As more cell phone companies face increased pressure to release the data of their users, the privacy and safety of people everywhere is under greater threat.

That’s why, at next Tuesday’s AGM, Access and FairPensions will ask Vodafone to release a transparency report.

In the U.S. alone, cell phone companies received 1.3 million government requests for user data last year. If this was the number of requests for just one country, international companies like Vodafone, with 371 million subscribers worldwide in 70 countries, would be expected to receive many more. So far, it has been silent on how many requests it receives.

“Last year, we asked what Vodafone would do to prevent another Egypt-type internet shutdown,” said Brett Solomon, Executive Director of Access, a global non-profit that stands for internet freedom. “In response, Vodafone made progress on privacy. This Tuesday, the focus shifts to transparency at home as well as abroad — will Vodafone tell customers how many law enforcement requests for their data it receives, and how it responds?”

Government requests for user data are a hot topic. Corporate transparency reports have issued from Google and Twitter in the past year, and U.S. cellular companies told a congressman how many data requests they receive, and their policies for complying. The vast number of requests, often without judicial approval, surprised many observers.

The pressure is on for Vodafone — 45% owner of US cell company Verizon Wireless, who received 260,000 requests for data in 2011 — to issue its own transparency report. Its policy for replying to government data requests is not currently known.

A copy of the AGM question is below; Access will also provide its Telco Action Plan, a set of concrete measures Access created for telcos to better manage and remedy their human rights impacts.


“Mr. Chairman,

My name is Louise Rouse. I am a shareholder. I ask this question on behalf of myself, AccessNow.org and the 10,000 Access supporters who endorsed this question.

At last year’s meeting, Brett Solomon of Access asked what Vodafone was doing to ensure it did not face a repeat of the network shutdowns in Egypt in January 2011. We are pleased to note the actions taken by the company over the last year, including the privacy programme assessment carried out by PWC and Vodafone’s involvement in the Industry Dialogue.

Today, I would like to ask a question about the company’s transparency on reporting requests for customer data by governments and their law enforcement agencies. The Telco Action Plan which Mr. Solomon gave you last year, and former Chairman Sir John Bond committed Vodafone to reviewing, clearly sets out how telecoms should respond to government requests for user data. This issue is fast becoming a public concern here and in all countries where Vodafone operates.

In the US for example, a number of telecoms including Verizon Wireless (in which Vodafone holds 45% of the shares) were asked by a US Congressman to provide information on law enforcement requests for customer data. This month, the query found that US cellular providers received an extraordinary 1.3 million requests in 2011 alone, and complied with most.

The Vodafone website states that “We have a clear policy to ensure we minimise the impact on our customers when interacting with governments and assisting law enforcement” but provides few details on the content of this policy.

Will Vodafone proactively commit to providing a transparency report in the UK and globally, detailing how many government requests it receives for customer data, how many it complies with, and your policy for handing over such data, including how you vet those requests?”