Government agencies are able to listen to phone conversations live and even track the location of citizens without warrants using secret cables connected directly to network equipment, admits Vodafone today.
The company said that secret wires have been connected to its network and those belonging to competitors, giving government agencies the ability to tap in to phone and broadband traffic. In many countries this is mandatory for all telecoms companies, it said.
Vodafone is today publishing its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report which will describe exactly how the governments it deals with are eavesdropping on citizens. It is calling for an end to the use of “direct access” eavesdropping and transparency on the number of warrants issued giving access to private data.
The company said that the 29 countries it operates in have different laws that demand that they restrict or block certain access to customers, or allow governments to directly access information about them. Refusal to comply with those laws was “not an option”, it said, as those countries could then stop them from operating within its borders.
In some countries this means giving access to the content of phone calls and other electronic communications, or access to metadata such as the number of calls made, the numbers they were made to and the location of the caller when those calls were placed. In some countries, around six that Vodafone does business with but not including the UK, they are made to provide a "direct access" cable straight into their network to allow governments to siphon off any data they wish, without having to issue a warrant.