Thousands of requests to secretly track phone calls in Ireland were made over the last 12 months.
Mobile phone giant Vodafone has revealed that governments around the world use secret wires that allow them to listen to all conversations conducted on its networks.
Some 29 countries in Europe and beyond use the system to monitor phone conversations and track users through their mobile phones. The company outlined the details in a report on the widespread use of secret surveillance by government agencies.
According to the report, 4,124 ’metadata’ requests were made in Ireland during the period under review. This is relatively low compared to some countries, particularly Italy where 605,601 requests were made.
Whenever a device accesses a communications network, small packets of data related to that device’s activities are logged on the systems of the operator responsible for the network. It is possible to learn a great deal about an individual’s movements, interests and relationships from an analysis of this ’metadata’ and other data associated with their use of a mobile network without every accessing the actual content.
Vodafone said the Irish Government did not allow it to publish information on any requests made but added that the data supplied could be sought for a number of reasons, including helping to find missing people .
The operator revealed that direct-access wires or pipes were connected directly to its network in a number of countries, the Guardian said. These can allow conversations to be listened to or recorded, or metadata — including the location of a device, the times and dates of communications and with whom communication was made — to be captured. In six of the countries in which Vodafone operates the wires are a legal requirement, with laws obliging telecommunications companies to install direct-access pipes or allowing governments to do so.
Vodafone is publishing its report to reveal the extent that phone tapping is used by governments to snoop on their citizens, The Guardian said.
The company has called for direct-access pipes to be disconnected and for agencies to have to gain warrants to carry out any surveillance, to discourage them from gaining direct access to a communications network with a legal mandate.
Stephen Deadman, Vodafone's group privacy officer, told The Guardian: "We are making a call to end direct access as a means of government agencies obtaining people's communication data. "Without an official warrant, there is no external visibility. If we receive a demand we can push back against the agency. The fact that a government has to issue a piece of paper is an important constraint on how powers are used."
Vodafone is Ireland’s biggest mobile operator and the world’s largest provider of mobile-phone services outside of China, with more than 400 million customers in almost 30 countries.