New phone-tap evidence raises more questions

Vodafone and Ericsson, the two mobile phone companies at the center of the phone-tapping affair, began installing software to prevent outsiders snooping on phone calls in January last year – two months before Vodafone said it had discovered the wiretaps – it was revealed yesterday. The discovery was made public by representatives of the Communications Privacy Protection Authority (ADAE) before a parliamentary committee on transparency yesterday. The telecoms watchdog has undertaken an investigation in connection with the mobile phone taps. Iakovos Venieris, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens and a member of ADAE, explained that the software used to snoop on 114 mobile phones had already existed as part of Vodafone’s system to allow legal tapping by authorities. The software, however, was hijacked by eavesdroppers and used to record conversations from the tapped phones, which included those of the prime minister and several members of his Cabinet. Vodafone says it discovered the spy software on March 7 last year but Venieris said that with the help of Ericsson, which was responsible for the operating software, the mobile telephony company began at the end of January to install upgrades to stop eavesdroppers. This surprised MPs as they were led to believe that Vodafone discovered the spy software in March and shut it down immediately. Venieris told the deputies that it was not clear when the phone tapping began and refused to comment on when the spy software was deactivated. Another member of ADAE, Andreas Lambrinopoulos, prompted further consternation when he refused to answer a question concerning whether the software had been installed at Vodafone or whether someone had hacked into the system from outside the company. «There is an answer but I cannot give it to you at this moment,» said Lambrinopoulos. MPs were also surprised to hear that Ericsson did not upgrade the software at seven of Vodafone’s centers, which included the two where the spy software had been activated. Lambrinopoulos also said Vodafone and its CEO Giorgos Koronias were wrong to deactivate the spy software when they discovered it. He said ADAE should have been informed so it could help track down the people who were recording the conversations. Venieris said there was only a remote chance of tracking down anyone based on the copy of the software that had been made by Vodafone.

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