Vodafone wants to blow whistle on surveillance requests

Vodafone wants to publish transparency reports detailing the type and number of requests it receives from government bodies asking for data on its customers.

According to a report from The Guardian, the operator has written to Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling demanding they lift the lid on data requests. It has also approached government ministers in 24 other countries where it operates regarding the same matter.

At present UK law prevents Vodafone and other operators from disclosing even general information about interception of communications. The only information available about government requests comes through the Communications Commissioner, whose job it is to make sure such requests are issued lawfully.

The mobile phone giant is bidding to be allowed to publish details on how many requests it receives and what they are for, such as metadata containing names phone numbers and locations.

"We want all of our customers worldwide to feel they are at liberty to communicate with each other as they see fit. We want our networks to be big and busy with people who are confident they can communicate with each other freely; anything that inhibits that is very bad for any commercial operator," said Vodafone's privacy head, Stephen Deadman.

The firm is looking to detail surveillance requests in its annual sustainability report, slated for publication in June. Alongside the requests, Vodafone will include new provisions of its data that state it will "not allow access to customer data unless legally obliged to do so" and will "challenge requests in law where appropriate."

Last year, AT&T and Verizon announced plans to publish transparency reports following the whistle blowing revelations of Edward Snowden. Surveillance of phone communications was among the first exposed by him in the summer.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.