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Friday, March 5, 2021

Vodafone prevented from discussing cell phone snooping in Qatar

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Photo for illustrative purposes only
Photo for illustrative purposes only

The country’s second-largest telecom firm has said local laws prevent it from disclosing how often it turns over customer information to Qatari authorities.

On Friday, Vodafone published its first-ever law enforcement disclosure report analyzing the demands made of it by law enforcement agencies in 29 countries between April 2013 to March 2014.

Specifically, the UK-based company released the number of demands it receives for a customer’s communications data – information such as call duration, location and destination – as well as requests for “lawful interception,” better known as wiretapping.

In its country-by-country report, Vodafone said local laws prevented it from releasing information on Qatar as well as Albania, Egypt, Hungary and Ireland.

Cell phone

Several more countries prohibit the disclosure of any details about how lawful interception is conducted, but allow companies such as Vodafone to publish the number of times it asked for communications data.

By contrast, readers can see that the Czech Republic made 7,677 wiretapping requests of Vodafone, while Portuguese authorities asked for communications data 28,145 times. In many cases, Vodafone links to previously published government reports on authorities accessing private communications.

During a press conference late last month discussing Vodafone Qatar’s financial results, CEO Kyle Whitehill was asked by Doha News about the extent to which it discloses customer data. He responded that the company helps law enforcement officials catch lawbreakers.

“We are always very, very cooperative to agencies when they require information from us. We help them track criminal activity.”

Qatar laws

Though it couldn’t go into specifics, the Vodafone report does, however, note that authorities in Qatar have the right to demand unfettered access to customer conversations:

“Article 59 of the Telecommunication Law states ‘service providers must comply with the requirements of the security authorities in the state’ … Any government department interested in ‘State security’ can rely on Article 59 … (Additionally), Article 93 of the Telecoms By-Laws states ‘nothing in the By-Law prohibits or infringes upon the rights of authorised governmental authorities to access confidential information or communication relating to a customer.’

Vodafone also notes in its report that there is no judicial oversight in Qatar of how law enforcement agencies exercise their power.

In its report, the company said it respects local regulations – even when some would argue that they are unjust intrusions on personal privacy:

“We respect the law in each of the countries in which we operate. We go to significant lengths to understand those laws and to ensure that we interpret them correctly, including those that may be unpopular or out of step with prevailing public opinion but which nevertheless remain in force.”

Vodafone said it is one of the first telecommunications company to prepare such a disclosure report. Vodafone says it is one of the first telecommunications company to prepare such a disclosure report.

Its main rival in Qatar, Ooredoo, does not directly address the issue of turning customer information over to authorities, but notes on its website that it is covered by the same local telecommunications law referenced by Vodafone.

The company prepared its report in an attempt to explain its principles, policies and procedures when faced with a demand to assist security forces with law enforcement and intelligence-gathering activities.

However, it added that the onus should fall on governments – not operators such as itself – to be more transparent in how often it requests communications records.

Thoughts?

15 COMMENTS

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Doha Hack
Doha Hack
6 years ago

I can understand why telco companies would be required to hand over call information for national security, but why would they be prevented from saying how often they have been asked? Unless the number is so gargantuan that it could never reasonably be justified…

Saffa
Saffa
6 years ago
Reply to  Doha Hack

Because those countries also have laws that make disclosure of such requests illegal….

Doha Hack
Doha Hack
6 years ago
Reply to  Saffa

Yes, but why is the law in place? The law is there it seems to provide authorities a blanket right to snoop, without any form of public justification or accountability, and to protect this blanket right from public scrutiny…

Saffa
Saffa
6 years ago
Reply to  Doha Hack

Sorry to sound insulting but I will; that is very naive of you…

Because the ruling elite have enacted that law. Did it pass without you noticing? Perhaps vote them out at the next turn and elect someone who will strike those laws and be all about transparency of governance…

Doha Hack
Doha Hack
6 years ago
Reply to  Saffa

I don’t even know how to respond to that – it wasn’t insulting, just confusing…

dubious
dubious
6 years ago
Reply to  Saffa

I think we can all agree on the mechanics behind how this became law although I’m not sure your proposal to vote it out is a workable fix when we don’t have a democracy here.

What I think Doha Hack is getting at is the classic “But who watches the watchers?” question. If everything is above board, they have nothing to hide in letting these aggregate details be disclosed, right?

History tells us that secret squirrel organisations and TLA type agencies simply cannot be trusted to operate without oversight, so if the legislature is weak and companies can’t even say what they are being compelled to log, monitor and disclose about you, how can you even start investigating or pushing for reform?

Without oversight, transparency, and integration into the judicial system, who is to say the authorities are not abusing their power?

Saffa
Saffa
6 years ago
Reply to  dubious

Wasn’t talking about this country….

dubious
dubious
6 years ago
Reply to  Saffa

only my first sentence was Qatar-specific!

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

Of course they respect the laws in each country they operate even if it is a massive breach of human rights as they want to make as much money as possible. They will sell their soul to reach their goal

Saffa
Saffa
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

Won’t most corporations? Hell, we’ve seen it in the roaming fees we pay, even if we roam on the same provider’s network in another country, the fees are exorbitant. What’s Human Rights compared to profit?

M333
M333
6 years ago

“We are always very, very cooperative to agencies when they require information from us. We help them track criminal activity.” Note to self Kyle…stop sounding like such a kiss ass – your job is not fighting crime (put the cape away), rather it is providing a decent service to your customers. However, full marks to Vodafone HQ for this excellent attempt at global transparency.

ChaTo
6 years ago

There is easy-to-use, free and open-source software you can use for enhancing the privacy of your call and texts: https://pack.resetthenet.org/#phone — I’ve been using some of it, and it works flawlessly. It is encrypted point-to-point so it cannot be tampered with or intercepted, which protects you from anyone (governments, hackers, or identity thieves) who want to snoop on your conversations.

Bob
Bob
6 years ago

Wouldn’t it be fun if out of silent protest ALL Vodafone subscribers here would just excessively use multiple words that get automatically flagged. I guess if 300,000 users keep using the words… It would be hard for the authorities to track…

Amber
Amber
6 years ago

NSA came to mind when I read this story. People have to come to terms with big brother will be watching over us 24/7 . The age of privacy is long gone

BBCA
BBCA
6 years ago

Remember that movie “Meet the Parents” with Ben Stiller? You can say Bomb on a plane…. Well turns out you cant say “Bomb” on a Vodafone connection either. Hahahahah!

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