Vodafone’s report comes one year after former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that US and other countries’ intelligence agencies indiscriminately gathered and stored data from telephone calls and Internet communications.
Norway’s Telenor Group, which operates across Eastern Europe and Asia, backed Vodafone’s report, saying governments have the ultimate responsibility to act.
Several Silicon Valley companies have attempted to restore consumers’ trust by publishing data on electronic spying and raising pressure on US President Barack Obama to curb the US government’s Internet-based surveillance programs.
Twitter Inc, LinkedIn Corp, AOL Inc, Google Inc, Apple Inc, Yahoo Inc, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp are pushing for tighter controls over electronic espionage in hopes of protecting their industry’s livelihood. The companies are also encrypting e-mails and other personal information transmitted across their services to make the data more difficult if it is intercepted by government spies.
“Companies are recognizing they have a responsibility to disclose government access,” Washington-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation senior analyst Daniel Castro said. “This is new.”
Vodafone’s report is also seen as a response to the company’s embarrassing role in the Egyptian protests that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011. As those protests raged, the government forced Vodafone to bombard its Egyptian subscribers with propaganda text messages.
The company said it had no choice but to comply, but was severely criticized for its actions.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Cynthia Wong said Vodafone experienced “a hard lesson” in Egypt.
“Even if the government is the ultimate problem, they realized they needed to take steps to mitigate harm to their users,” she said.
On the streets of Cairo, citizens interviewed on Saturday said they assumed every Egyptian regime sought to spy on them, particularly Mubarak’s successors.
“Mubarak underestimated social media and the youth,” market researcher Iman Fouad, 26, said as he sipped a lunchtime coffee.
He said many Egyptians assumed that security services monitored messages on Facebook and Twitter.
“In Egypt and most of the Arab countries, where they have this obsession with security and knowing what everyone is up to, I can believe it. They are afraid of another revolution,” Fouad said.
A 54-year-old engineer, Ahmed Tarshouby, said the best policy for any telephone user was to talk without fear.
“I talk as I want. I insult as I want,” Tarshouby said as he sat on a sidewalk, smoking a shisha pipe. “I don’t have any problem with them monitoring. I would say anything. I have no secrets.”