Vodafone Group has revealed that in some of the markets where it operates, government agencies have permanent access to monitor communications.
In an annex to the company's Sustainability Report, the UK-headquartered group said that in some countries, governments do not need to request access to communications, known as ‘lawful interception', on a case by case basis, but rather governments are constantly able to monitor all communications.
According to the BBC, in six out of the 29 countries where Vodafone operates, governments have permanent access to communications. The company has operations in Qatar and Egypt, although no disclosure has been made about which countries have permanent monitoring, and the operator pointed out that in many countries revealing such information would be illegal.
The report stated: "In a small number of countries, agencies and authorities have direct access to communications data stored within an operator's network. In those countries, Vodafone will not receive any form of demand for communications data access as the relevant agencies and authorities already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link."
The information was disclosed in Vodafone's Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, an annex to its recent Sustainability Report. The operator said it was reporting this information due to increasing public concerns over monitoring of communications by government agencies. The report focuses on: lawful interception; and, access to communications data, although the company noted that it is often legally prevented from full disclosure.
The report said: "Media reports of widespread government surveillance and data ‘harvesting' by intelligence agencies have triggered a significant public debate about the transparency, proportionality and legitimacy - even lawfulness - of the alleged activities of a number of high-profile agencies.
"Questions have also been asked about the role of communications operators such as Vodafone in support of those activities. We hope that this report will provide some of the most important answers, although there will undoubtedly be some questions that we cannot answer."
In publishing the report, Vodafone is one of the first telecommunications operators worldwide to make such disclosure.