LONDON - The world's second-biggest mobile phone company Vodafone revealed government agencies in six unidentified countries use its network to listen to and record customers' calls, showing the scale of telecom eavesdropping around the world.
The United States and Britain both came in for global scrutiny and criticism after Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), disclosed their vast phone, email and internet surveillance operations.
But Vodafone, which has 400 million customers in countries across Europe, Africa and Asia, said in its "Disclosure Report" on Friday that countries in its reach are using similar practices.
While most governments needed legal notices to tap into customers' communications, there were six countries where that was not the case, it said.
"In a small number of countries the law dictates that specific agencies and authorities must have direct access to an operator's network, bypassing any form of operational control over lawful interception on the part of the operator," Vodafone said.
Vodafone did not name the six for legal reasons. It added that in Albania, Egypt, Hungary, India, Malta, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Turkey it could not disclose any information related to wiretapping or interception.
The Vodafone report, which is incomplete because many governments will not allow it to disclose requests, also linked to already-published national data which showed Britain and Australia making hundreds of thousands of requests.
It showed that of the countries in which it operates, EU member Italy made the most requests for communication data.
Germany, which expressed outrage when it was revealed last year that US intelligence services had listened into the calls of Angela Merkel, also made requests to listen in to conversations and collect the data around them, such as where the calls were made and how long they lasted.
Vodafone received no requests from the government of the United States because it does not have an operating licence there. It exited a joint mobile venture with Verizon last year.
The extent of US and British surveillance was laid bare when the NSA's Snowden passed stolen secret documents to newspapers, triggering a spy scandal that caused a standoff between US President Barack Obama and the Kremlin and led to calls for greater scrutiny of Western agents.