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Challenges for operators

Refusal to comply with a country’s laws is not an option 

Doing so could result in:

  • the removal of our licence to operate, preventing us from providing services to our customers. 

  • risk of harm or criminal sanctions, including imprisonment for our employees who live and work in the country.

We therefore have to balance our responsibility to respect our customers’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression against our legal obligation to respond to the authorities’ lawful demands, as well as our duty of care to our employees, recognising throughout our broader responsibilities as a corporate citizen to protect the public and prevent harm. 

Perceptions of a tension between privacy and security are not static; the underlying factors evolve constantly and are a regular topic in our conversations with a wide range of people and organisations, including governments, privacy activists and NGOs, intelligence agencies, politicians and regulators.

Transparency

We try to be as transparent as possible about law enforcement demands. However, in a number of countries, the law is unclear or disclosure is not permitted. We don’t publish statistics if we can’t get any clarity from the authorities on whether we can disclose or if we’re told not to. We have an obligation not to put our employees at risk.

Security and secrecy

We have a small team of specialists working in each of our operating companies around the world, who are tasked with liaising with agencies and authorities to process the demands we receive. They are usually security-cleared and are bound by strict national laws to maintain confidentiality.

These employees can’t discuss any aspect of a demand received (or whether or not one has been received at all), as doing so could potentially constitute an offence.

In some countries, they can’t even reveal that specific law enforcement assistance technical capabilities have been established. In many countries, breaching those restrictions would be a serious criminal offence, potentially leading to imprisonment or revocation of our operating licence.

Addressing the complexities of law enforcement across multiple countries 

Laws designed to protect national security and prevent or investigate crime vary greatly between countries, even within the European Union. As a global business operating under local laws in multiple countries and cultures, Vodafone faces a constant tension in seeking to enforce a set of global principles and policies that may be at odds with the attitudes, expectations and working practices of governments, agencies and authorities in some countries. Our global governance framework is designed to help us to manage that tension in a manner that protects our customers and reduces the risks to our employees without compromising our principles.

Freedom of Expression

When we operate in a country, each of our subsidiary companies operates under a local licence (or other authorisation) issued by the government in which the subsidiary is located, and we are therefore subject to comply with the domestic laws of that country, which includes those set out in our licence. This includes a requirement to comply in relation to government demands. 

However, where we can—taking account of all the risks including to staff safety—we seek to challenge orders or demands that appear to us to be overly broad, insufficiently targeted or disproportionate in nature, as long as it doesn’t create safety issues for our employees.

You can read more about our approach to government demands here

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

  3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
    (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others
    (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals

Read more on law enforcement demands

Government assistance demands reporting

In the Enforcement Assistance Demands Reporting you can learn about the volume of each country’s agency and authority demands.