London: Germany’s biggest telecoms company is to follow Vodafone in disclosing the number of surveillance requests it receives from governments around the world.
Deutsche Telekom, which owns half of Britain’s EE mobile network and operates in 14 countries including the US, Spain and Poland, has already published surveillance data for its home nation — one of the countries that have reacted most angrily to the Edward Snowden revelations. In the wake of Vodafone’s disclosures, first published in the Guardian, it announced that it would extend its disclosures to every other market where it operates and where it is legal. A spokeswoman for Deutsche Telekom, which has 140 million customers worldwide, said: “We intend to publish something similar to Vodafone.”
Bosses of the world’s biggest mobile networks, many of which have headquarters in Europe, are gathering for an industry conference in Shanghai this weekend, and the debate is expected to centre on whether they should also use transparency to push back against the use of their technology for government surveillance.
Mobile companies cannot operate without a government licence, and have previously been reluctant to discuss the extent of their cooperation with national security and law enforcement agencies.
But Vodafone broke cover by confirming that in around half a dozen of the markets in which it operates, governments in Europe and outside have installed secret listening equipment on its network and those of other operators.
Under this direct access, wires suck up traffic, allowing unfettered access to the content of phone conversations and text messages, and in some cases delivering live data about the location of customers.
They allow surveillance without the usual warrants, and it means the phone company cannot know how many people are being targeted and what the justification is for any snooping.