Fri Feb 3rd, 2006 at 03:34:16 PM EST
The USA had its domestic-spying-NSA scandal, but now here is a high-profile [and spy movie-like] case from Europe. Can we trust our mobile phone companies anymore? Promoted by DoDo
The Greek government announced yesterday that one hundred mobile phones were illegally tapped
including mobile phones belonging to the Prime Minister and key cabinet Ministers.
The eavesdropping operation was set-up by some sort of software inserted in Vodafone's systems (Vodafone is the second largest mobile telephony provider in Greece). The technology used for the phone-tapping was described as "very sophisticated".
The list of people and organizations targeted by the phone tapping included - apart from the government members, EU commissioner Stavros Dimas, the Mayor of Athens, the socialist former Minister of Defence, high-ranking military officials involved in arms procurement, a company partially owned by the PM's family, the PM's wife, one US embassy phone number, anti-authoritarian human rights activists and lawyers, journalists (including an Al-Jazeera correspondent in Athens), anarchists and various people with Arabic and Pakistani names (some of whom were described as "businessmen", but there is no confirmation of their identities yet).
A rather suggestive list...
The Greek government was made aware of the phone taps on March 10 2005, but only after Vodafone had removed the surveillance software (or so they say...), thus making it impossible to track where the intercepted calls were diverted to. This is technically legal (they ensured that their customers weren't spied upon), but is criminally negligent and, if accurate, should create some serious legal issues for the company, as is the fact that the individuals whose phones were tapped, were not notified until yesterday - and then not by their provider (who is legally responsible of informing them about such a matter) but by the government. Apparently, very few people knew about these events until yesterday, and that includes most of the cabinet and military top brass. Peak surveillance activity occurred around the time of the Athens Olympics, but it was still going on when it was uncovered.
Add to that, the (now suspicious) suicide of a Vodafone software security employee, just one day before the company reported the tapping to the government and two days after the surveillance software was detected, and you have a spy thriller in the making - as well as one of Greece's greatest scandals ever (and that's saying a lot).
Note that military officers who spoke today to the newspapers suggest that the uncanny ability of major defense contractors to react to even off-the-record private conversations, should now be investigated in light of these events.
Interestingly, the government not only didn't go out of its way to deny obvious suspicions directed towards certain foreign secret services but, by disclosing the location of the antennas that relayed the intercepted phone calls, it actually pointed, very diplomatically, a finger to a possible culprit. To understand why, take a look at the following image:
[created and explained by Greek blogger Roman.]
You see what I mean...
The Athens daily Eleftherotypia has posed nine unanswered questions about the phone-tapping, which comprise indeed the crux of this story:
- Why did Vodafone erase the software before notifying the government?
- Or did it? Is it just politically embarrassing to reveal the identity of the eavesdroppers?
- How did they insert the software into the system?
- Were they listening-in on the Prime Minister's conversations during politically critical periods?
- How did the eavesdroppers learn the phone numbers of the people they were tracking, given the fact that the phone numbers were often anonymous or organizational?
- Has anything similar happened to other mobile telephony providers?
- Why didn't the company immediately notify the independent Privacy Protection Committee?
- Did any of this have an effect on army procurements?
- Why weren't the targets of the phone tapping notified?
- Why did the Greek government so readily point the finger towards the US embassy?
Finally some broader questions: Do you think that this is an isolated incident which occurred only because of the exceptional circumstances surrounding these past Olympics' security? Or are similar surveillance operations occurring in other European countries, as we speak? Has the EU as an organisation, effective privacy protection policies, or are EU directives making such violations easier?