Vodafone Says It Has No Knowledge of U.K. Spy Programs

Vodafone Group Plc said it doesn’t recognize the spy programs described in a report based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden that said a unit of the phone company worked with British officials to tap into other carriers’ traffic.

The documents show that Cable & Wireless, now a unit of Vodafone, helped the GCHQ agency improve its technology for surveillance, and that the company rented space on foreign carriers’ networks, allowing British spies to access global traffic, according to a report from Channel 4 News yesterday.

The documents indicate that Cable & Wireless had regular meetings with GCHQ from 2008 to at least 2010 and that the spy agency was using a network access point, which had at one point been run by Cable & Wireless, as recently as April 2013, according to the Channel 4 report. Vodafone bought Cable & Wireless Worldwide Plc in 2012.

“We have found no indication whatsoever of unlawful activity within Vodafone or Cable & Wireless, and we do not recognize any of the U.K. intelligence agency programs identified,” Newbury, England-based Vodafone said in a statement on its website. “Furthermore, Vodafone does not own or operate the cables referred to.”

Under U.K. laws, phone companies are required to give GCHQ access to traffic on their networks when they’re served with a warrant. GCHQ, which stands for the Government Communications Headquarters, is part of the U.K.’s security and intelligence service, focusing on communications and the Internet.

Wiretapping Disclosure

Last year, the Guardian newspaper reported that Vodafone was among British phone companies giving GCHQ access to their undersea cables, citing documents from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Snowden.

Vodafone said it investigated the “past history of Cable & Wireless compliance” from before they bought the company and didn’t find evidence that would back up the claims.

A GCHQ representative said the the agency’s longstanding policy is not to comment on intelligence matters. GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that its activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, the representative said.

Vodafone published a report in June detailing the extent of wiretapping requests on its network from governments around the world. Vodafone said dozens of governments requested information on its users and traffic, and that in some markets, governments are allowed to access networks via their own direct link. The report was in response to growing scrutiny about phone companies’ roles in spying programs.

“In every country -– including Germany and the U.K. -- there are laws that require all operators to disclose information about our customers to law enforcement agencies or other government authorities,” Vodafone said. “Refusal to comply with a country’s laws is not an option.”

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