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Vodafone Hands Data To Egyptian Police 104

Posted by timothy
from the cost-of-doing-business dept.
Jack Spine writes "A Vodafone exec has admitted the company handed communications data to the Egyptian police following riots over food shortages last year, to aid the identification of suspects. Egyptian law enforcement has a habit of torturing and murdering detainees, or of having them 'disappear.' This is similar to Yahoo handing details of Chinese dissidents over to the authorities in 2005. It's nice to have it confirmed that multinational service providers shelve morals in the pursuit of cash."
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Vodafone Hands Data To Egyptian Police

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  • by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:01PM (#26817755)

    I'm not sure it is productive to be looking towards these companies for moral behavior (Google, Yahoo, Vodafone). If we have a problem with the actions of the Egyptian government, then there are numerous ways for us to apply pressure.

    Vodafone is based in England and operates just about everywhere in the world. If Egypt is acting poorly, then pressure your government to threaten sanctions on Vodafone (or any other company) for doing business there until the government wises up.

    Frankly, if I were a Vodafone exec in a country with a reputation "of torturing and murdering detainies, or having them 'disappear'" I'd probably cough up information pretty readily, too. If you don't like that, then forbid Vodafone from operating there - don't complain that they are playing by the home field rules.

    • So, you are saying that Vodafone's ethics are okay, "under the circumstances"? That seems to be what I get from your comments.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes.

        You don't like the problem? Go change it instead of whining on the internet.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MightyYar (622222)

        No, their ethics are not okay.

        While it's fine to criticize the company, any effort directed at them is - IMHO - better directed at your national government. If a company does business in Egypt, this sort of thing is going to inevitably happen.

        • by Fluffeh (1273756)
          I wonder if handing over that information is illegal in Egypt. We jump up and down about that infringement on privacy out here in the western world, but I wonder if over yonder in Egypt, if handing out that information actually breaks local privacy laws.

          If it doesn't, I wouldn't like to be the guy explaining to the local police chief why my company doesn't want to give them non classified, non private normal run of the day information helping them solve a case (whatever the case is).
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MightyYar (622222)

            That's exactly the point. It isn't up to corporations to formulate our policy. If we don't like the local laws of Egypt, then we need to take action on the government level. Expecting a corporation to fulfill this function will drive you to madness!

            They are supposed to follow the law and do their economic thing. I'd prefer that the people involved behaved ethically, but frankly that shouldn't be important. Things should be set up in such a way that if someone is unethical, they get caught. Also, we as a soc

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        So, you are saying that Vodafone's ethics are okay, "under the circumstances"? That seems to be what I get from your comments.

        First thing, corporations don't have ethics, at best the people within those corporations have ethics.

        The Vodafone exec would have a shitton of shareholders breathing down his neck and calling for his head if he pulled out of Egypt or sacrificed a large amount of shareholder money in order to withhold data from the government. What's really necessary if your assessing duty to the corporation is to look to the shareholders for responsibility. Some won't care, others might, but what if you stand to lose a s

        • Yes, corporations DO have ethics, in a very practical sense. Those ethics mirror those of the board. They are (or should be, if the board is actually controlling the corporation as they should be) indistinguishable.

          I do not believe the "moral territory" is slippery at all. Even though I am by no means an absolutist (there is always some gray area, and some things are nothing BUT gray), I think the "moral territory" here is quite clear.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            You think the moral thing to do is to disregard the laws of the country you're operating in (assuming that it was a legal request for information, something like a US subpoena)? Just because you disapprove of their criminal justice system?

            There's a slippery slope here. I would like to avoid handing dissident information over to governments in general (and that includes my own), but if a country cannot enforce its own laws on companies operating in their territory but based elsewhere, there's a whole lo

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zippthorne (748122)

        I think he's saying that Bob middle manager doesn't really fancy the possibility of being included in the list of dissidents to be tortured or disappeared, so to expect him not to comply is unreasonable.

        The only way for Vodaphone to avoid having their hands dirty is not to have any employees in country with enough authority to be able to comply, which basically means they would have to get out entirely.

        Similarly, the only way to avoid captains turning over cargoes to pirates when boarded would be to avoid t

      • by cyborch (524661)

        Actually, in this instance their ethics are okay. Period.

        Read the article. They were forced. Look a the Egyptian govenments ethics in stead.

    • by spun (1352)

      Why is it that corporations are expected, even encouraged, to act amorally, but we expect morality to be enforced by our government? It's like a sick dodge that lets us pretend that we are moral people, while acting amorally out of sheer greed. Sure, some people invest only in socially responsible, environmentally sound companies, but that is rare. Most people invest in companies that do things that those people themselves would never do. And they do so without feeling bad, or even slightly conflicted, beca

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Because I can vote for my government officials. Corporations exist to increase the public wealth. Government is supposed to set the boundaries that they can operate in. If Microsoft uses its monopoly position to stifle competition, it is the government who should step in. Saying "please be nice, Microsoft" would be rather unproductive.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by spun (1352)

          Asking a corporation to be nice won't work, of course. But why do people continue to invest in companies that do things those people would never do? It seems that if we really wanted to end corporate injustice, rather than having our surrogates, the government, sanction the companies, we could do so ourselves by refusing to invest in them.

          But we don't stop, because the diffusion of responsibility means that the investors will not feel badly about the actions the company takes on their behalf. Without ending

        • by cyborch (524661)

          Corporations exist to increase the public wealth.

          No they don't.

          They exist to increase their owners personal wealth. Increasing public wealth is a side effect of having employees.

          • by spun (1352)

            Companies exist to increase their shareholder's personal wealth. The corporate structure, enforced and protected by government, exists to increase the public wealth. Without the rules and structures created and maintained by government, corporations as such could not exist. All we would have are sole proprietorships and partnerships. Why then do governments create and maintain corporate structures? Simply to increase the wealth of their stakeholders? Or is it in fact to increase the public wealth?

            • by FallLine (12211) *

              Without the rules and structures created and maintained by government, corporations as such could not exist. All we would have are sole proprietorships and partnerships.

              If you simply mean this tautologically, i.e., a corporation wouldn't be a corporation without laws to recognize its existence, then OK. However, if you mean that large for-profit organizations with limited liability for its owners are impossible, then this depends on the legal environment that such an entity exists in. Without laws that

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Why is it that corporations are expected, even encouraged, to act amorally, but we expect morality to be enforced by our government?

        Because that's how we set the system up. Corporations are an artificial construct of the government and are an economic tool. If we want them to be a tool for social change, then the most obvious path is to make that rule change in government.

        • Well yes. I am trying to point out that the problems stem from the diffusion of responsibility inherent in the corporate structure. Very few people would poison a village for profit. Yet most people would invest in a company that poisoned a village for profit. So rather than petition the government to fix one problem by, say, sanctioning Egypt, we could fix a whole host of problems by enforcing what most Americans claim to desire: personal responsibility. People who invest in a company should be personally

          • by MightyYar (622222)

            What you are suggesting is not necessary. SOMEONE still makes a decision that "poisons a village". SOMEONE is still responsible, and can be charged criminally. Whether that person works for a corporation or not is irrelevant, since a corporation does not give you protection from criminal offenses. Simply make the things you want to prevent criminal offenses... why dismantle civil limited liability?

            Getting back to Egypt. If you want Vodafone to be restricted from giving away customer information to the Egypt

      • by mi (197448)

        Why is it that corporations are expected, even encouraged, to act amorally, but we expect morality to be enforced by our government?

        Because corporations have to compete. The one with the least ethics will win, unless the government enforces the minimum ethics standards for all — this, BTW, is the only legitimate reason for government regulation, but I digress.

        The US has very strong anti-bribery law (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [wikipedia.org]), which prohibits and severely punishes [npr.org] bribery of foreign officials by

    • If we have a problem with the actions of the Egyptian government, then there are numerous ways for us to apply pressure.

      And they don't seem to be working. Your idea of sanctions has been tried and tried before ... look at Iran. Did you know that a lot of Iranian people hold United States citizens responsible for the deaths of sick and hungry people in their country. Because we impose sanctions on them (nevermind the UN does it too) and ours are so strict that we refuse them medicine.

      If Egypt is acting poorly ...

      If Egypt is acting poorly? Take the case of newly released Philip Rizk [nytimes.com] who was held for five days without reason. And the only reason he w

      • by Znork (31774)

        we give Egypt so much money to keep their Human Rights up to standard with the UN

        Somehow I think the message may get slightly diluted from the rendering operations where the services of Egyptian torturers get used.

        Maybe we could impose sanctions on the torture service industry as a start...

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        And they don't seem to be working.

        I thought the issue here was morality? Is it moral for Vodafone to do business in Egypt, when they have to do immoral things to stay there?

        Even if sanctions don't work, if it is not moral to do business in a country, how can you support your country doing business there? So what if Russia supports Iran? That makes Russia immoral, and that's no reason to join them.

        If Egypt is acting poorly?

        You don't have to convince me, but just about every country in the world is happy to do business there.

        Well, you can't target a single company with a sanction, can you?

        Why the heck not? But I don't see why the l

      • by Nazlfrag (1035012)

        It would also make you giant hypocrites as the US government has done exactly the same thing regarding phone companies and inhumane detention.

    • Frankly, if I were a Vodafone exec in a country with a reputation "of torturing and murdering detainies, or having them 'disappear'" I'd probably cough up information pretty readily, too. If you don't like that, then forbid Vodafone from operating there - don't complain that they are playing by the home field rules.

      The point here is that the definition for being a "good corporate citizen" should extend beyond "making boat-loads of cash-ola for the stockholders". It should also involve some form of ethics that do not include facilitating torture.

      Remember, incorporation in most countries involves a favorable leagl status for the corporation. In return the corporation should benifit not only the stockholders, but society as a whole.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        It should also involve some form of ethics that do not include facilitating torture.

        Okay, so make that into a law. Harassing Vodafone might feel good, but isn't going to change the situation.

        • Okay, so make that into a law. Harassing Vodafone might feel good, but isn't going to change the situation.

          Depends. If it adversly effects Vodafone's bottom line, it might...

          • by MightyYar (622222)

            It would have to effect Vodafone's bottom line more than pulling out of Egypt would. I doubt you could pull this off, and certainly not with less effort than it would take to influence your national government.

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      Something your missing is that the portion of any company doing business in any other country then they are based from are subject to the laws of the country they are doing business in. This means that if Egypt or China has a law requiring the information to be turned over, if they don't, not only can the be bared from doing business in those countries, but their corporate personnel who are operating inside the country who also refuse to hand the information over are subject to penalties of those laws.

      If Eg

    • Frankly, if I were a Vodafone exec in a country with a reputation "of torturing and murdering detainies, or having them 'disappear'" I'd probably cough up information pretty readily, too.

      Not me. I would do everything in my power to undermine the country, much like the Western oil company's did in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez came to power. But too many people are like you; ready and willing to condone or take part in murder, torture and violence just like that bitch Annie Mullins from Vodophone, who

      is heavily involved in various initiatives to prevent online child abuse, including the Internet Watch Foundation, added that the UK technology industry had "very positive" examples of self regulation.

      (Ref: http://news.zdnet.co.uk/itmanagement/0,1000000308,39614610,00.htm [zdnet.co.uk]). So she's actively involved in dubious organizations and thinks the UK police state is"very positive" and apparently expec

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        too many people are like you;

        I would never take a job as a Vodafone exec in Egypt. I was simply trying to emphasize that ANY telecom doing business in Egypt will suffer this fate - it is inevitable.

        The oil companies in Venezuela preceded Chavez - it was in their best interest not to be nationalized. Vodafone did not enter Egypt when it was a bastion of democracy. The conditions are similar to when they entered the market. They should have just stayed out if they didn't want to be in this position.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      If I were a Vodafone exec, I think I'd recommend that the company not do business in any country with a reputation "of torturing and murdering detainies, or having them 'disappear'" in the first place.
      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Yup, I'm with you on that one. In reality, I would never be a Vodafone exec in Egypt... I simply wouldn't take that job. However, if for some reason I did have that job, I certainly won't be the one risking life, limb, and family to make an ultimately meaningless defiant gesture.

  • And in other news Vodafone gets a big deal with police to run there phone system.

  • eh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by goldcd (587052) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:04PM (#26817807) Homepage
    "It's nice to have it confirmed that multinational service providers shelve morals in the pursuit of cash."
    Exactly which world are you living in, their entire remit is to make as much cash for their shareholders as possible - and board get a kicking (or even prosecuted) if they don't.
    Exactly how many companies do you think had their share price rise on the news they sacrified some profits to do the moral thing?
    • by nametaken (610866)

      Starbucks.

      Though the nice part for them is Starbucks doesn't operate a comms company in Egypt.

    • by Yokaze (70883)

      > Exactly how many companies do you think had their share price rise on the news they sacrified some profits to do the moral thing?

      Well, when it's in the news, it's advertisement and will very likely increased the overall profit.
      The real question is, how many companies have done the morale thing, without doing a cost/benefit analysis.

    • So I really can't speak for people who do. People who do invest in amoral companies, do you feel guilty at all? Would you personally do the things those companies do? If not, why is it okay to profit from things you personally find reprehensible? Is it just something you don't think about? Is it okay because 'everyone is doing it?' Or do you just tell yourself a story about how it's all lies and corporations don't do bad things?

      • by goldcd (587052)
        I've thought about this a few times.
        "why is it okay to profit from things you personally find reprehensible?"
        I guess we all participate in things we find personally reprehensible. I don't agree with everything the tax I pay is spent on. Should I stop paying tax? Should I emigrate to a country where I agree with 100% of how my taxes are spent? Maybe aim for 90%? (but then would that be number of things, or take into account my strength of opinion on different matters).
        To be honest, I just don't know - wh
      • What *do* you invest in, then?

        Are you saying you seriously have the time to research enough companies to have a well-balanced portfolio of non-amoral companies?

        Or are you saying you've got your money in the bank, where their investments in amoral companies pay your interest, but it's ok because you only get a tiny pittance of the spoils.

        • by spun (1352)

          I'm saying I'm poor.

  • Or? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sj0 (472011) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:04PM (#26817811) Homepage Journal

    You know, if authorities known for torture, murder, and making people "disappear" demanded something from me, I'd give it to 'em.

    Call me an evil capitalist pig, but I don't want to piss off people like that.

  • yeah? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:06PM (#26817837) Homepage

    It's pretty unrealistic to expect companies to violate the laws of the countries they operate in. It is sure to damage their own business (which is their reason d'etre), and their employees could go to jail.

  • So far the majority opinion (at only about 10 comments) seems to be that this is okay!

    What the hell happened to the ethics of Americans? This is no longer the country I grew up in. It makes me sick.
    • Re:Jesus Christ! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:17PM (#26818021) Journal

      Thanks for you obviously well reasoned argument. No one thinks it is okay for Egypt to torture anyone. However, if you operate in a country, you better follow the laws there. If an ISP is required by a court order to turn someone in who is looking at naked 17-year olds, they better do so. Even if someone's opinion is that there is nothing wrong with this.

      I don't want companies setting legal boundaries. If we don't like Egypt's was of running things, then we apply pressure on a governmental level, not through proxies because we are too big of wusses to address the issue ourselves.

      For me, I figure we have enough problems to address here in the U.S. to keep us busy for a while.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        It was obviously not intended as a "well-reasoned" argument. It was an opinion, nothing more or less. I am perfectly capable of well-reasoned arguments when I wish, but I do have opinions too. Generally, it is easy to distinguish between them!

        Corporations have choices about where they operate. It is NOT a valid argument to say "If we did not do this, someone else would." That does not change the ethics of the situation at all. For example, when Google said (as they very openly did) when deciding whether
    • Interesting, you automatically assume the first 10 comments ARE Americans? I am, but it's an interesting assumption.

      Secondly, what about these ethics? I am a minority here, with my thoughts about right, wrong, morality, and ethics. But I'm curious - what ethics do you speak of? Acting for the good of the Egyptian people vs. acting for the good of the company/shareholders/profit? How about acting for the good of your employees vs. acting for teh good of the Egyptian people? Hm. What SHOULD they have d

      • No, I did not assume they were all Americans (and in fact your point did occur to me), but the odds are that most of them were.

        WhatI am saying is: when a company chooses to do business in a country where the laws and ethics are different from those of its native country, then that company is CHOOSING to adopt those laws and ethics. It is not a random occurrence, it is a free choice. If they don't think that their actions there will affect opinions in the native country, then they are dreaming a very stra
        • by Sj0 (472011)

          The United States, until very recently, was no better than Egypt.

          You have no idea how much Obama is increasing the world's opinion of y'all.

          • I agree with you about the Bush administration, but if what you are saying is true then that's very sad, because back here at home he really isn't doing much in the way of good. He has appointed RIAA lawyers to influential seats, for example. His first month in office, as far as I am concerned, has demonstrated not "change you can believe in", but "mostly no change at all", and in other places "changes you don't want". And make no mistake... I am no Republican.
            • by Sj0 (472011)

              He's signed executive orders to close all the illegal secret prisons, completely denounced torture, gone on Arab TV and extended an olive branch, and advocates a more open foreign policy, rather than "Do what we want or you're worse than garbage".

              Issues of fundamental human rights and foreign policy come long before anything the RIAA has ever done. "Are you monsters who cause people you disagree with politically to 'disappear'?" is a more important question than "Is a corporation getting away with abusing c

              • Yes, that is true. But I was referring what he was doing here, within our own borders.

                While I applaud what he is doing about foreign policy and things like Guantanamo, we have plenty of domestic problems, too, and so far he has not been helping them much if any. Within limits anyway, the opinions of people overseas about my government do not put food on my table.

                And while I agree with most of your last paragraph in general, it does belittle an important point. "Slightly" does not accurately describe t
                • by Sj0 (472011)

                  I agree completely that there needs to be a complete attitude change in Washington, and Obama isn't it.

                  I'm just happy for what I can get. I haven't visited the US in years, because I'm literally afraid of you guys. You've been taking my countrymen and sending them to Syria to be tortured. Any improvement is a welcome one.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      I think it's more a case of:

      If you would refuse to give information to the authorities who have "a habit of torturing and murdering detainees, or of having them 'disappear'" then feel free to criticize away. If you would though, then lets not be hypocrites.

      • I am not being a hypocrite. The crux of the matter is: I would not have put myself in a situation such that I had to turn that information over in the first place.

        I would not do business in a country where I had moral or ethical problems with the laws. That is a free choice the corporation made, and this demand for information was a direct result of that choice. So they have nobody to blame but themselves, and I don't mind saying so. When they willingly adopt the laws and ethics of another country, I wil
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      So far the majority opinion (at only about 10 comments) seems to be that this is okay!

      You've completely misconstrued my argument. I'm not saying that this is "okay". I'm saying that people like the one who wrote the summary are misplacing their anger and efforts. Vodafone is not where we should expend our energy... why is a European company allowed to do business in an environment where police can confiscate records in a way that most Europeans would judge to be a violation of human rights? It's fine to attack Vodafone and they deserve it... but it isn't productive and will never advance you

      • No, just anti-Vodafone. They made choices, including the choice to do business in a country whose laws are barbaric to much of the West. But in doing so, they have willingly adopted those laws and ethics. I can and will judge them for that freely-made choice. It is not a matter of "to deliver the records or not deliver the records". They made that decision when they agreed to the laws of the country in which they are doing business. The issue is, and was: "Should I do business in this country, which has law
    • by rts008 (812749)

      Welcome to the 'new, improved corporate America'.
      It's easy: just remember this one thought:
      "Hurray for me, and fsck you!"

      See, isn't that easy to remember?

      What the hell happened to the ethics of Americans? This is no longer the country I grew up in. It makes me sick.

      It is still here, you just have to search harder for it unfortunately.

      If any of your grand-parents are still alive, ask them about it. You may be surprised to find out they know exactly how you are feeling right now.

  • Hmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kabocox (199019) on Wednesday February 11, 2009 @04:18PM (#26818031)

    Some one in the US, or another somewhat free country complaining that multinational companies operating in not so nice countries abide by the not so nice countries' laws.

    No duh. They don't want bad things to happen to their employees or such in that country. Sometimes the countries decide to "nationalize" "foreign" industries. I wouldn't want that if I were a multinational company. It's easy to complain about another country sitting here. Why don't you complain to the companies offices in said country for following the local laws. (Heck, the US has laws that basically say that companies and individuals have to turn over what the government whats when it says it needs it.)

    As an example look at the previous slashdot article about a TX judge ordering topix to turn over trolls ID info so that they can be personally sued. There is no difference between the two requests to any multinational company. It's a legally valid request from the government. You other obey it or face the consequences.

    • by BentoMan (1462597)
      "It's a legally valid request from the government. " Very well put. My point exactly.
      • by kabocox (199019)

        "It's a legally valid request from the government. " Very well put. My point exactly.

        The only ones that can really "fight" a government is another government. Do we really want multinational companies to challenge existing governments?

        There is a part of me that thinks that a multinational share holder owned company couldn't do worse than some countries. I wouldn't want a company trying to take over my country though. I think that the populations of even the worst run countries would have the same thoughts i

  • Surely the BIG question is around Vodafone operating Call Centres in Egypt, that service Vodafone in other countries. (At least Vodafone New Zealand, and i imagine many more). Does this mean Egypt Govt could request access to my call data? Without my knowledge?
  • Riots happened. Laws were broken. Police needed information. Vodafone provided information. I didn't see anything unethical or unlawful on the company's conduct. Neither do I see any reason the company should have acted any differently if it were a Russian company doing business in the U.S or U.K How true is it that the riots were a result of food shortage? How true is it that the police has a record of human rights violation? Don't roll your eyes and say it's a given for a third world Arab country. Give
    • The reality here is that the riots were partially the result of a movement that developed on Facebook [slashdot.org] and this is what concerns the government. Egypt is a weak state because the government does not operate with the permission or blessing of the people, is corrupt at ALL levels, and does not provide basic social services. This has caused a great deal of civil unrest here, which is always looking for a way to vent.

      In the case of the "food riots" this spring, there was one riots, in an industrial city in th
  • People rioting over food shortages, and the police using excessive force to bring them down... sounds like a plot for a movie or something.
  • Egyptian law enforcement has a habit of torturing and murdering detainees, or of having them 'disappear.'

    Hot damn, isn't this what we do in Gitmo? What the CIA does abroad? What can happen to any American citizen if he is declared an "enemy combatant"? And you know it doesn't take much of anything for any citizen to qualify as an "enemy combatant." So the United States commits acts like this all the time but that's somehow all right because it's the U.S., yet when another country does the same thing it's s

  • by noundi (1044080)

    It's nice to have it confirmed that multinational service providers shelve morals in the pursuit of cash.

    Really? So we didn't know this already?

  • Just so you know who they are; Vodafone is the parent company of Verizon Wireless here in the USA.

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