17 Nov 2011

Vodafone Fiji denies phonetapping claims but leaks emails

4:41 pm on 17 November 2011

Vodafone Fiji says client confidentiality is a number one priority for the company and denies ever allowing private phone conversations to be tapped.

A former Fiji army colonel however says that's a lie and says he was present when senior members of the regime read over phone conversation transcripts.

He says people have lost their jobs as a result of phone tapping.

Bridget Tunnicliffe reports:


A former Fiji army colonel Ratu Tevita Mara, who fled Fiji in May while facing sedition charges, says phone and internet tapping started in early 2007, under the interim prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Ratu Tevita says Connect and Vodafone are involved, with the latter the main offender.

He says during his time, the company would simply require a request from above.

"I know every time that the military or the police would want phones tapped they'd want a written authority from the legal regime, regime would write a directive to Vodafone to tap his phone."

Ratu Tevita says he believes Vodafone wanted the written directives so that the company could cover itself if future cases were brought against them under a democratically elected government.

Vodafone strongly denies the phone tapping claims, saying it doesn't have the technical capability.

But Ratu Tevita says IT technicians from India came in and he believes that technicians from China are also assisting.

A leading trade unionist, Daniel Urai, who has been charged with urging political violence has backed Ratu Tevita's claims.

Mr Urai, who was released on bail last week, says he's heard from a government minister that a team in the military works full time on tracing calls.

The military army's hiring in equipment assisted by the Chinese Government to be able to tap into phone calls for people who are marked by the state.

An official from the Chinese Embassy in Fiji says China doesn't have that kind of co-operation with the relevant Fiji department.

She says there is no connection with the regime to support it in this area.

An associate professor for Information Science at the University of Otago, Hank Wolfe, says it's not difficult for phone companies to tap into phone calls.

It's the flip of a switch at the phone company, at the main exchange they can cut in there, they don't have to do anything to tap they can do it right there at the main exchange for landlines. For cellphones it's a little different and all you need is a stingray two and a laptop computer and you can tap into a cellphone.

Mr Wolfe says China and India have the technical expertise to carry out such surveillance.

Vodafone Fiji say no military personnel in the history of the company has ever been permitted to enter its exchange nor monitor calls, but didn't want to speak about it on tape.

It says client confidentiality is a priority for the company, yet questions sent by Radio New Zealand International in emails to Vodafone about the issue, have appeared on a blogsite, including supposed responses from Vodafone, which were never received by Radio New Zealand International.

The blogsite operator, Crosbie Walsh, says he received the private emails from Vodafone.

Vodafone has refused to say why it has sent emails to a blogger.

Meanwhile Ratu Tevita says people who are seen as not toeing the regime line are targets of phone tapping.

He says he was present when transcripts of phone conversations of people criticising the way the Government was being run, were presented to the military council and Commodore Bainimarama.

Not malicous but saying how they disagreed with the Government and that's been used against them. That's had CEOs removed, it's even had people who work in Government removed.

Ratu Tevita says they also read transcripts where people had criticised Commodore Bainimarama's appointment of his brother-in-law in a key military position.