Vodafone has revealed the extent of government snooping on its networks around the world, in a long report that appears to confirm the worst fears of privacy campaigners.
The firm reveals that authorities in 29 countries have approached it for information on users, and while some are fairly open about their demands, others do not permit the company to reveal anything.
However, more worryingly for those who value privacy, the report shows that in six countries Vodafone is obliged to allow governments to listen-in to communications at will, without obtaining a warrant first.
"In every country in which we operate, we have to abide by the laws of those countries which require us to disclose information about our customers to law enforcement agencies or other government authorities, or to block or restrict access to certain services," it said.
"Refusal to comply with a country's laws is not an option. If we do not comply with a lawful demand for assistance, governments can remove our licence to operate, preventing us from providing services to our customers. Our employees who live and work in the country concerned may also be at risk of criminal sanctions, including imprisonment."
The UK is fairly open about its demands, according to the report, but other countries, such as Turkey, will not let the firm reveal anything about its data requests. According to the report, the UK government made 2,760 interception requests, or warrants, and over half a million communications data requests.
In the report, Vodafone calls on all governments to allow greater transparency and to consider the impact the actions of their intelligence agencies is having on business and consumers.
"In our view, it is governments – not communications operators – who hold the primary duty to provide greater transparency on the number of agency and authority demands issued to operators," it said.
"We believe that regulators, parliaments or governments will always have a far more accurate view of the activities of agencies and authorities than any one operator."
In the meantime, Vodafone said it will continue to release all the information it can.
"Whilst we have included factors relevant to national security powers in compiling this report, it is important to note that many countries prohibit the publication of any form of statistical information relating to national security demands," it said.
"We think many governments could do more to ensure that the legal powers relied upon by agencies and authorities are fit for the internet age."
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