Coffee, Tea, or Network Security?
Amongst Europe's carriers, it's noticeable that the UK telcos are taking the lead in speaking out on the right balance between cooperating with government requests to monitor private communications and protecting customer privacy.
Is this because they're more worried than telcos in other countries that privacy concerns are dissuading users from consuming communications services?
Or are they perhaps more irritated than other telcos at the positive media coverage that the likes of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) are getting for their professed indignation at the unjustified violations (or is that allegedly unjustified violations?) of user privacy that appear to be commonplace?
Or maybe UK telcos have more to feel guilty about than telcos in other countries because of the British government's "special relationship" with the US in security-related matters?
Or are they just afraid that governments and users in other countries might think they've got more to feel guilty about because of that "special relationship"?
The reasons are debatable -- and we'll be debating them at a special breakfast briefing during Mobile World Congress -- but the facts speak for themselves.
Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) has stated it will be requesting from the UK government, and the governments of each of the 25 countries in which it operates, the right to disclose the number of demands it receives for wiretapping and customer data. "We want all of our customers worldwide to feel they are at liberty to communicate with each other as they see fit," the operator's privacy head, Stephen Deadman, told The Guardian newspaper. "We want our networks to be big and busy with people who are confident they can communicate with each other freely; anything that inhibits that is very bad for any commercial operator," he added. (See Euronews: Vodafone Makes a Stand on Privacy.)
Vodafone would like to disclose surveillance requests in its annual sustainability report, due to be published in June.
Now, as reported on Light Reading, BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) CEO Gavin Patterson has publicly commented on the issues thrown open by the Snowden revelations, stating: "It's just too murky at the moment. It needs to be transparent and [there] needs to be clear guidelines about what's acceptable and what isn't," adding that the legislation has to "catch up" with the real world. (See Euronews: BT CEO Calls for Clarity on Data Security .)
Whatever is driving these UK telcos to start speaking out, BT and Vodafone are undoubtedly doing the entire telco community a substantial service. In recent months, trying to get carriers to respond as the Internet giants have done around the limits they want to see on government intrusion has been like trying to get blood out of a stone, mainly because the security traditions in which the carriers are so steeped demand -- that's right, demand! -- that they don't communicate publicly around the matter.
As well as other topical issues, such as the actual impact of mobile malware and DDoS attacks on the mobile network, this question of protecting customer information will be discussed at "Creating Trust in the Mobile Network," a breakfast event I am hosting during Mobile World Congress. The briefing, which will be held in Barcelona on Wednesday February 26, will feature guest speakers from Arbor Networks , Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), Nokia Networks , and Cloudmark Inc. .
Those attending the event will also get a free copy of my new 50-page survey of mobile operators that focuses on the security threats causing them real problems -- and those that aren't.
Full marks to BT and Vodafone for being among the first to realize that the veil of silence around this issue is one that needs to be lifted. Telcos of the world should unite and speak up. You have much to lose, not least revenue and brand loyalty, if you don't.
ó Patrick Donegan, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading