Vodafone has said that a small number of governments have direct access to communications flowing over its networks.
In its first-ever transparency report, the telecoms firm has revealed in which countries it is obliged to hand over communications.
Most countries Vodafone operates in need a warrant to intercept communications. However, in some countries police have a direct link to customer’s phone calls and web communications.
Regarding Ghana, Vodafone states that so far it has ” not implemented the technical requirements necessary to enable lawful interception and therefore have not received any agency or authority demands for lawful interception assistance”.
It goes on to say that Ghana’s “legal position is unclear regarding whether or not it would be lawful for Vodafone to disclose statistics related to agency and authority communications data demands”.
The general principle behind disclosing private communications to government and other state agencies is that it should only be done in the interests of national security and public protection. However, what constitutes a threat to these is relative and varies from country to country.
On this, Vodafone states: “Under the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (“ECA”), certain classes of information which are deemed to be of importance to the protection of national security may be declared to be critical electronic records and subject to restrictions in respect of access, transfer and disclosure. Under section 56 of the ECA, the Minister for Communications may by notice in the Gazette (the official government publication) declare certain classes of information which are deemed to be of importance to the protection of national security to be critical electronic records. Section 59 of the ECA therefore provides for the setting of minimum standards in respect of access to, transfer and control of a critical database.
“Additionally, section 60 of the ECA imposes restrictions on the disclosure of information in a critical database to persons other than the employees of the National Information Technology Agency, a law enforcement agency, a ministry, department or other government agency. As a result, if the aggregate data in respect of the above agency and authority demands are designated as critical electronic records, the government will be able to prevent Vodafone from publishing them”.
In the report, the telecommunications firm, which operates in 28 other countries, said that they had requested Ghana’s authorities to provide further guidance, but had not received a reply as yet.
Vodafone said it values customer privacy, but it must comply with laws in the countries in which it operates.
In most of the 29 countries where Vodafone has major operations, law enforcement and intelligence agencies must have a warrant to listen to phone calls or look at text messages, emails or web chats.