Vodafone, one of the world’s largest mobile phone groups, has revealed the existence of secret wires that allow government agencies to listen to all conversations on its networks, saying they are widely used in some of the 29 countries in which it operates in Europe and beyond.
The company has broken its silence on government surveillance in order to push back against the increasingly widespread use of phone and broadband networks to spy on citizens, and will publish its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report on Friday . At 40,000 words, it is the most comprehensive survey yet of how governments monitor the conversations and whereabouts of their people.
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 whereabouts of a customer. Privacy campaigners said the revelations were a “nightmare scenario” that confirmed their worst fears on the extent of snooping.
Direct-access systems do not require warrants, and companies have no information about the identity or the number of customers targeted. Mass surveillance can happen on any telecoms network without agencies having to justify their intrusion to the companies involved.
Industry sources say that in some cases, the direct-access wire, or pipe, is essentially equipment in a locked room in a network’s central data centre or in one of its local exchanges or “switches”.
The staff working in that room can be employed by the telecoms firm, but have state security clearance and are usually unable to discuss any aspect of their work with the rest of the company. Vodafone says it requires all employees to follow its code of conduct, but secrecy means that it cannot always verify that they do so.
Government agencies can also intercept traffic on its way into a data centre, combing through conversations before routing them on to the operator.
Full article: Vodafone reveals existence of secret wires that allow state surveillance (The Guardian)