Looks like the US and the UK aren’t the only ones interested in violating the privacy of their citizens.
In a trend that seems to be catching on like wildfire amongst the developed nations of the world, this week it was revealed that the Irish government has been covertly requesting information on thousands of customers who use Vodafone as their primary cellphone provider.
29 other countries in Europe reportedly use similar systems in their own law enforcement efforts, and with Vodafone standing tall as the largest carrier of wireless services in Ireland, it’s no wonder why they became the primary target for the covert surveillance operations used to locate, identify, and prosecute potential or current terrorists.
In the past 12 months Vodafone has reportedly received around 4,124 metadata requests for customers located within Ireland’s borders, which may sound like a lot at first, but pales in comparison to the numbers that other countries put in in the same amount of time.
Italy leads the pack, pulling down a whopping 605,601 requests in just one year, with other nations like Spain, France, and the Netherlands following not so far behind.
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.”
While it’s easy to point the finger at Vodafone for these injustices, one mustn’t forget that many of these companies face significant penalties for non-compliance with police investigations, and generally don’t have the resources available to fight every request as they come in by the thousands each year.
The company claims they were under strict orders from the Irish government not to publish any details of their dealings with anyone outside of the country, claiming that doing so would “put the security of innocents at risk”.
They followed up this statement by clarifying that although the practice of using metadata can seem shady from the outset, there are also a list of legitimate reasons they may have put in the requests as well, including searching for missing persons, and keeping tabs on parolees who have gone off the radar for a number of weeks without reporting in to their local officers.
According to reps for the company, the reason for their sudden lack of silence stems from the Snowden leaks last year, which exposed the vast metadata collection efforts being undertaken by higher-profile spy agencies like the NSA in the US and the GCHQ in the UK.
With those two taking the lion’s share of the heat, Vodafone believes they are no longer overstepping their bounds by bringing this information to the forefront.
In response to these issues, Vodafone has put in a direct request to the Irish Parliament that the taps on their pipes which bleed out this information be removed, and they be allowed to resume operations without the threat of legal action being taken against them the next time they refuse to divulge information on registered members of the European Union.