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Vodafone admits that the government uses its network to spy on us

Governments across the world have access to secret ‘pipes’ into communications networks allowing them access to calls, messages and user data, according to Vodafone.

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In a 40,000-word Law Enforcement Disclosure Report the telecoms company published today, it has been revealed that governments have the ability to access Vodafone’s mobile and broadband infrastructure to gather information on its users.

Vodafone, which operates across some 29 countries is one of the world’s biggest mobile phone groups and in the pursuit of transparency has broken its silence on government-led surveillance that includes the listening and/or recording of phone calls, access to messages and mobile web data, as well as location information on individual users.

Vodafone’s group privacy officer, Stephen Deadman, said: “These pipes exist, the direct access model exists… We are making a call to end direct access as a means of government agencies obtaining people’s communication data.”

It appears that in 2013 alone, Vodafone received hundreds of thousands of requests from governments for metadata on its customers. Malta is apparently the most spied upon nation in Europe with 3773 requests for said metadata on its 420,000-strong population and as the Guardian highlights in its piece on Vodafone’s report, Italy’s strong mafia presence led to some 606,000 metadata requests last year.

As the above table shows, not every country has revealed its activities and from a legal standpoint some aren’t obligated to do so. In the UK, Deadman says that a warrant would be required to gain access to these secret pipes, however indiscriminate data collection on an undisclosed number of targets would still be possible unwarranted.

With Edward Snowden’s findings and the recent rise in awareness of government surveillance from the general public, it’s good to see that some organisations like Vodafone are prepared to hold their hands up and shed some light on such shady practices.

Chances are it’s not just Vodafone who governments have approached over the years; other telecommunications companies, messaging services and social networks all likely operate with some sort of ‘back door’ or pipe open for agencies and governements to farm for information.

Where do you think the line should be drawn with regards to transparency and privacy between the government and your information? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below.

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Image source: Juliette Garside/The Guardian

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