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Vodafone released a surprisingly detailed report last week on the governments that snoop on telephone conversations. The 29 countries they serve around the world are included. Vodafone is one of the biggest providers of cellular service in the world. Quite a few of the countries they cater to are continuously pushing to tap into phone records without any notice or the need for a search warrant. Like many large Internet companies, Vodafone is taking the step to inform users of these surveillance activities to avoid consumer backlash.
Phone Surveillance Continues
Phone snooping has been a global practice for many years. But the Snowden documents revealed how wide-ranging and deep it is in reality. Since then, many cellular phone subscribers have expected the practice to slow down. They, along with many privacy and human rights groups, have been protesting the practice of covert phone surveillance. It was hoped that this would force governments around the world to put a stop to the surveillance conducted on innocent consumers. But the report from Vodafone reveals that the trend continues.
Different countries spy on telephone communications in different ways. Many governments have been tapping phones since they hit the mainstream. Police wiretaps and phone data searches have been aiding criminal investigators for decades. But these searches by law enforcement agents are supposed to be supported and monitored by the courts. In six of the countries where Vodafone operates, however, the government has gone around the legal requirements to get direct access to phone records and even the network itself. They no longer apply for warrants or need to request for data from telecoms.
Vodafone has released their report in part to encourage greater discussion of the issue of phone surveillance. Many telecommunications companies are concerned about how this unwarranted surveillance affects customer loyalty and trust. Now that Snowden has let the cat out of the bag, telecoms like Vodafone need to take action concerning government surveillance. Informing their subscribers of these activities is one step they can and are taking to show customers that they are not willing participants. Telecoms have been widely accused of aiding and abetting unlawful mass surveillance around the globe. They now need to prove that they are not in cahoots with these agents.
Vodafone did not specify which of the countries they serve have sidestepped the legal requirements. But we do know that they are among the countries served by the company. In Europe, Vodafone caters to Albania, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the UK They also serve Turkey. Across Asia and the Pacific, they operate in Australia, Fiji, India, New Zealand, and Qatar. In Africa, they serve Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malta, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania.
A clue to the identities of the six named countries conducting illicit surveillance is found in the report’s appendix. It has been found that the law in six of the countries Vodafone serves can allow this type of government spying. In Albania, Ireland, Hungary, Turkey, Egypt and Qatar, the government is permitted to gain unregulated access to cell phone user data. Vodafone does not get any data requests from these governments because they already have a direct line to phone communications and records. Researchers also revealed that mobile phone subscribers in the UK and India may be subject to unwarranted surveillance as well. Laws in these two countries may provide loopholes for the government to gain express access to phone communications.
VoIP VPNs Prevent Phone Surveillance
Illicit surveillance of phone conversations and telecom consumer data is out of the control of the average mobile phone user. Because of the way that telecoms are set up, consumer data is in the hands of the providers. And because many telecoms started off as being government owned, data sharing is more difficult to avoid. Because of the lack of control that subscribers have over their phone conversations, many seek a comparable alternatives. Since the Internet has reached the four corners of the world, VoIP is by far the best one. But the use of tools like Skype, Google Talk and FaceTime does not guarantee privacy, either. The use of a VoIP VPN alongside these services is a must to secure voice and instant messaging communications. VoIP providers will still have control over the data that is sent over their networks. But users can at least take back control over their identities with VoIP VPNs.
VoIP services that are provided by the biggest Internet companies are not secure without VoIP VPNs. Many of these companies are beginning to fight against government surveillance. But they also often retain the right to take and use consumer data. It is hoped that their protests against government surveillance will make the services more secure. But only VoIP VPNs can protect users’ identities from being linked with the call and chat data that they regularly collect. AOL, Apple, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have already made their move against government snooping. They are also working on better security so that users can entrust their data to these providers. As these companies work towards acceptable levels of user privacy and data security, VoIP VPNs offer a shield that users can wield against unsolicited spying and data mining.
VoIP VPN providers themselves have been criticized in the past for sharing data with government agencies. It is therefore important to be careful in choosing not only the VoIP service one uses, but also the VoIP VPN used to secure it. Some VoIP VPN providers’ hands are tied by the laws of the countries where they are registered. They are compelled by legislation to turn over user data to the government. But the most secure VoIP VPN providers guarantee user privacy by not keeping any data that can compromise the identities or activities of their users. These are the VoIP VPN providers that can be trusted to help secure phone communications despite a high degree of government control and access to phone data.