Vodafone to meet with human rights groups

Vodafone has pledged to meet human rights groups to talk about how it can prevent its networks being hijacked by repressive regimes.

The British telco got into hot water after it was forced to send out pro-government messages and shut down its network by the Egyptian government last year.

According to the Herald Scotland the meeting is a result of the grilling that Vodafone was given at yesterday’s annual meeting in London.

Brett Solomon, director of lobby group Access, asked the outfit what it was going to do to prevent a repeat of the situation.

Vodafone customers were sent pro-government messages including the following call: “To every mother-father-sister-brother, to every honest citizen preserve this country as the nation is forever.” We get something similar but it usually asks us to change our phone tariff.

Outgoing Vodafone chairman Sir John Bond said the outfit had no discretion to negotiate variations. Network operators were subject to similar legal provisions to those used in Egypt earlier this year. Any process to elaborate a new approach to human rights and communications must involve governments as well as industry and NGOs.

However he did say that the company would meet Access as “respect for human rights forms part of our assessment of any market into which we move our operations”.

We have to wonder what standards the outfit is using. Vodafone operates in Bahrain, China and Malaysia. Bahrain has a history of shutting down mobile services. Malaysia equally is a big fan of censorship as is China.

Access wants telecoms companies to agree crisis protocols with governments. These should ensure users can make emergency calls at all times, that calls and emails are not hacked, that networks are shut down for minutes or hours rather than days and that carriers cannot be used to disseminate propaganda.

Bond is being replaced by Gerard Kleisterlee, the former chief executive of Dutch electronics firm Philips. It is the first time that Vodafone’s two most senior leaders are not British. Chief executive Vittorio Colao is Italian.