Vodafone’s disclosure of the existence of wiretapping on its networks worldwide could lead technology and phone companies to reveal how much access governments have to phone calls, data and emails, although this is less of a concern in the UK.
Vodafone has claimed that 29 governments, including the UK, have asked for access to its network or user data, and last week it released its law-enforcement transparency report, the most comprehensive by a global telecommunications carrier. The company said wires had been connected directly to its network and those of other telecoms groups, allowing agencies to listen to or record live conversations and, in certain cases, track the location of a customer.
Deutsche Telekom AG, with 145 million wireless customers in Europe and the US, said it may increase disclosure following Vodafone’s report.
A spokesperson for Three told Mobile the company has no intention of compiling its own report because such a report is unnecessary. They said that information requested under the Regulatory Investigation Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 are already published annually by the Interception of Communications Commissioner (IoCC). ‘We take both our legal obligations and customer privacy seriously,’ the spokesperson said. They added: ‘Three works with the Government and does no more or less than is required or allowed under the established legal framework.’
Similar sentiments were expressed by a spokesperson from EE who said: 'We only allow access when we have to through the legal means of RIPA requests.' The spokesperson explained that Vodafone's revelations highlight a problem which is more global than UK-centric, explaining that within the UK these issues are less of a concern, as highlighted in Vodafone’s report.
In the UK personal communications must be accessed via a legal warrant. The UK Government made 2,760 interception requests and 514,608 communications data requests to all mobile phone operators in 2013. The UK government forbids Vodafone from disclosing lawful interception attempts. A government agency publishes its own annual survey. Last year, 2,760 communications interception warrants were authorised, according to the report.