Vodafone revealed on Friday that governments around the world use secret wires to gain access to mobile phone conversations conducted on its network in some of the 29 countries in which it operates.
The British telecommunications giant , one of the world's largest mobile operators which has been operating in Egypt since 1998, issued a twenty-page report called "Law Enforcement Disclosure", in which it said that tapping mobile phone calls has taken place in some of the 29 countries.
Wires are connected directly to the network, allowing intelligence agencies to listen, record and sometimes track the location of customers, Vodafone said.
According to the company, in Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Qatar, Egypt, India, Malta, and South Africa it is unlawful to disclose any information related to wiretapping or interception of the content of phone calls and messages, including whether such capabilities exist.
Although admitting the "right of privacy to customers" stipulated in international human rights law, Vodafone stated that it has to follow the laws of every country, a situation that requires disclosing information about customers to government bodies or to restrict access to certain services.
"Refusal to comply with a country's laws is not an option", the Wall Street Journal quoted Vodafone as saying.
"If we do not comply with a lawful demand for assistance, governments can remove our license to operate, preventing us from providing services to our customers."
The company justified publishing the information to further the debate on government surveillance systems, vowing to renew the report on an annual basis.
Moreover, Vodafone argued that the need of governments to balance the two duties of protecting the state and its citizens and securing individual privacy is the "focus of a significant global debate."
Vodafone stated that governments -- not mobile operators -- carry the "primary duty" to provide greater transparency on the number of agency and authority demands issued to operators.
The mobile operator also called for the disconnection of all "direct-access pipes" and amendment of laws that legalises the tapping measures, urging governments to "discourage agencies and authorities from seeking direct access to an operator's communications infrastructure without a lawful mandate"