Leading telecom operator, Vodafone has revealed the existence of secret wires through which government agencies tap and listen to all your conversations on their network. The network provider said that governments from 29 countries where Vodafone operates, have been tapping in on their citizens’ private conversations, the list includes India as well.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest of inventions, the Internet turned out to be the perfect tool when, on June 6th 2013, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked information that stated the existence of surveillance programs such as PRISM, that under government approval, were spying on any and all of us using the internet.
Vodafone released a 20-page comprehensive survey that lays out how various government agencies snoop on their citizens. It said that these agencies have connected wires to its network, along with others’, that give them direct access to not only listen and record conversations, but also locate the whereabouts of any citizen.
In India, and many other countries, it is unlawful to disclose any information about the existence and capabilities of these activities.
“For governments to access phone calls at the flick of a switch is unprecedented and terrifying,” said Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti. “Snowden revealed the internet was already treated as fair game. Bluster that all is well is wearing pretty thin – our analogue laws need a digital overhaul.”
You might also be surprised to know that carrying out surveillance on any citizen doesn’t even require a warrant, and even the network providers cannot keep track of who the targeted citizens are. It has been estimated that the surveillance equipment is kept in a locked room in the telecom company’s central data rooms.
The staff employed in such places is aware of this, however, is under legal obligation not to discuss such aspects of its work profile with the rest of the company.
Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International, which has taken legal action against the British government over mass surveillance finds these activities “nightmare scenarios“.
“I never thought the telcos would be so complicit. It’s a brave step by Vodafone and hopefully the other telcos will become more brave with disclosure, but what we need is for them to be braver about fighting back against the illegal requests and the laws themselves.”
Vodafone executives said that they are aware of these “pipes”, and want them to be discontinued. They demanded the government to at least introduce the requirement of lawful mandates for seeking direct access to the operator’s communication infrastructure.
What Edward Snowden thinks of this a year after the leak
“One year ago, we learned that the internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives – no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be. Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same.” Snowden told The Guardian.
Surveillance state in India
Last year, the Indian government established the Central Cyber Monitoring System that allowed agencies and the police to track citizen’s phone calls and internet activities. We also learned about the big tools that the government was employing to track its citizens.
After severe protests from several internet activists, the Supreme Court of India said last year that it can’t stop US agencies from snooping as it has no jurisdiction over them. (via)
We’ve reached out to Vodafone India, and shall update the post when we hear from them.