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Government can legally obtain data on customers under ‘security concerns’: Vodafone

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Vodafone discloses the legal power that allows the armed forces and security agencies to order information about its customers

Vodafone disclosed in a report the legal power under the Egyptian law that allows the government to order data about Vodafone customers. (AFP Photo)

Vodafone disclosed in a report the legal power under the Egyptian law that allows the government to order data about Vodafone customers.
(AFP Photo)

The Egyptian Criminal Code gives law enforcement agencies the legal authority to require the disclosure of communication data, worldwide Vodafone Group said in its first Law Enforcement Disclosure report published on Friday.

Vodafone published the report to explain the principles it follows when responding to demands from authorities requiring Vodafone to assist them in their law enforcement and intelligence gathering activities, the firm said.

The report, which is the first country-by-country analysis of law enforcement demands, includes the 29 countries in which Vodafone is active. Each subsidiary company of Vodafone operates under the terms issued by the country of operation, and each is subject to the country’s domestic laws, the company noted.

The UK-based company disclosed in the report the legal power under the Egyptian law that allows the government to order data about Vodafone customers.

At the beginning of the report, Vodafone stressed that the privacy of communications are protected by the Egyptian constitution in articles 57 and 58, which prohibit communication surveillance “except with a reasoned court order for a specific time, in accordance with the law”, the article read.

Under the 58/1937 Egyptian Criminal Code and the 150/1950 Criminal Procedures Code, it is illegal to intercept or record an individual’s communications, except through the issuance of a warrant by a prosecutor or investigative judge with the aim of investigating a crime, Vodafone noted.

The period of the recording should be no more than 30 days, can be renewed by a direct order from “an authorised member of the armed forces or security agencies”, the company added.

Meanwhile, the 10/2003 Telecommunications Regulation Law gives freedom to the armed forces and security agencies to obtain information “pursuant to national security concerns” which according to Vodafone “are not defined”.

“Article 64 of the Communications Law stipulates that telecom companies must ensure that their communication networks allow the armed forces and the various national security agencies to exercise their authorities under the law,” Vodafone stated.
The communication operator and provider should provide “all technical potentials” including system and software which enables the armed forces and national security entities “to exercise their powers within the law”, the law states according to the website of the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA).

According to Article 65 of the law, the NTRA is committed to issue a plan, in cooperation with the armed forces and security agencies, to be effective in times of natural disaster and “general mobilisation”.  “Such plan shall be updated periodically in order to secure defence and national security,” the article reads.

In Article 67 of the same law, the state authorities have the power to subject to their administration all telecommunication service operators or providers in case of environmental disasters or during “declared periods of general mobilisation”.

Vodafone commented: “There is no directly applicable text in the law, but in accordance with Articles 64 and 67 of the Communications Law the armed forces and national security agencies have broad latitude to intercept communications with or without an operator’s control or oversight.”

One of the well-known situations in which the Egyptian government interfered with the availability of communication services was in January 2011, when the government ordered all telecommunication operators, including Vodafone, to entirely shutdown their networks.

The communication privacy issue is currently under concern in Egypt after a leaked Ministry of Interior document suggested the ministry is searching for tenders to create surveillance software to monitor at least 26 topics ranging from defamation of religion, calling for illegal strikes and demonstrations as well as terrorism and violence.


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