Global Surveillance Debate Ignited

Telecommunications company Vodafone's report on government surveillance of its customers in 29 countries reveals more than first meets the eye -- and is raising questions from Dublin to Delhi about how much spying on email and telephone chats happens in secret.

In Friday's report Vodafone said most countries required the company's knowledge and cooperation to hear phone calls or see emails, but at least six governments have given their security agencies the power of direct access.

Vodafone didn't identify the countries that have tapped into its network, but the report provided some clues. An 88-page appendix reveals that five countries -- Albania, Egypt, Hungary, Ireland and Qatar -- have provisions that allow authorities to demand unfettered access.

In vague language, the report also indicated similar powers could exist in India and the United Kingdom, too.

In too many cases, Vodafone said, governments kept both the company and wider society in the dark about what was happening, with laws explicitly forbidding government disclosure of any details of its electronic eavesdropping.

Ireland, a European hub for many social media and communications companies, refused to tell Vodafone anything about how its national police accessed its wireless and internet services. The Irish situation is muddied further by the fact that its laws on the subject date to 1983 and 1993, when mobile and email communication were still in their infancy.

The Irish government defends the need for electronic surveillance to combat Irish Republican Army factions and Ireland's criminal underworld. But Ireland's civil liberties watchdog accused the government of legal laziness over the past two decades of telecommunications innovation.

"Our interception laws were drafted in a pre-digital age and are plainly no longer fit for purpose," said Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

Kelly said he has asked the government to confirm whether it operates "direct access pipes into...

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