Campaign group Privacy International is urging businesses to fight back against governments in light of the Vodafone report released today, which revealed the extent of government surveillance operations.
While Vodafone has come clean, Privacy International claims other companies, specifically telecos, are quietly abiding by the laws and practices imposed on them by various governments.
Writing in a blog post today, executive director at Privacy International, Gus Hosein, said: “Companies must be held to account and their secret agreements with governments regarding the monitoring of communications data must be made public.”
Husein claims that UK intelligence agency GCHQ pays telcos millions of pounds to install and maintain the optical fibre taps that directly feed data into the UK's mass surveillance system, TEMPORA.
He said: “The lack of transparency when it comes to surveillance is unacceptable in a democratic society – whether it's governments refusing to comment on their activities, parliamentary committees with privileged access and limited powers to open debate, secret courts interpreting the law, or companies being gagged from talking about demands to their customer's data.”
While many companies are refusing to speak out about their relationships with government intelligence agencies, there have been a number of cases in the past month that suggest the tide could be changing.
For example, Microsoft challenged a National Security Letter it received from the FBI ordering the disclosure of data regarding an enterprise customerr. The US IT giant won the case.
Meanwhile, two service providers in Canada released Transparency Reports this week, breaking Canadian industry's silence regarding surveillance.
But Hosein argued that companies have to do more.
“We want companies to demand a clear legal basis that abides by international human rights principles,” he said.
“We now know that these reports only provide a limited picture of what is going on. It is ridiculous that a year after the first Snowden leaks, governments continue to impoverish our much-needed democratic debate. It is also incredible that governments think that they may craft laws to provide for mass surveillance. And it is insulting that not a single law has changed after a year-long global debate about surveillance.”
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