Government Listening In On Your Cell Phone? Major Carrier Says Yes

Government listening in on cell phone calls isn’t a new issue. Whether or not the US government can legally listen in on your cell phone calls without a warrant has been debated for a long time, especially in light of the Patriot Act, which has given the US government the (debatably) legal means of spying on US citizens by listening in on their cell phone calls.

What is new is the public’s understanding of the extent to which governments can and do listen in on our cell phone calls – and the problem isn’t limited to the United States. In fact, while the Patriot Act allows the US government to listen in on your cell phone calls without a warrant under certain circumstances – such as being suspected of being involved in terrorism – some countries’ governments have carte blanche to listen in on calls coming into or out of the country.

Recently, Vodaphone, a major cellular operating company with a large presence in Europe, Asia and Africa, has disclosed that several governments can listen in on your cell phone calls — should you call or be called by anyone in their country — with the flip of a switch, according to an Associated Press report.

Vodaphone does business in 29 European, African, and Asian nations. A listing of the countries Vodaphone serves is available on their website. The hoops that governments do — or don’t — have to jump through vary greatly from country to country. At least six nations have no legal requirements at all for their government to listen in on cell phone calls. While Vodaphone did not reveal which countries were completely without regulations that limit the government’s ability to listen in on cell phone conversations, it did have this to say about them in its report:

“In those countries, Vodafone will not receive any form of demand for lawful interception access as the relevant agencies and authorities already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link.”

Those in the US are still largely in the dark regarding the degree to which the government can and does listen in on cell phone calls. AT&T and Verizon did offer some information about the government’s ability to listen to cell phone calls in the wake of Edward Snowden’s allegations of government misconduct.

A report in The Wire quotes Vodaphone spokesman Stephen Deadman giving this reason for Vodaphone’s revelation that governments are indeed listening in on cell phone calls:

“We are making a call to end direct access as a means of government agencies obtaining people’s communication date. Without an official warrant, there is no external visibility. If we receive a demand we can push back against the agency. The fact that a government has to issue a piece of paper is an important constraint on how powers are used.”

What do you think? Should governments be allowed to listen in on cell phone calls or access data without a warrant? Should it be allowed in the US? Should all cell phone carriers be required to divulge the degree to which state and national governments are allowed to listen to cell phone calls like Vodaphone did voluntarily?