Vodafone Germany sued for storing customer's mobile traffic data

24. Juli 2012
A customer in Germany is suing mobile operator Vodafone because it allegedly stores connection data without having any legal obligation to do so, the plaintiff's lawyer said Monday. Lawsuits against other telecom operators will follow soon, he said.

The lawyer, Meinhard Starostik, in May sent a cease-and-desist letter on behalf of his client to Vodafone in which he said that the allegedly illegally stored traffic data was unnecessary for the billing process and should be deleted without delay. Starostik is a lawyer working with the Working Group on Data Retention, a privacy and digital rights organization.

Vodafone stores data such as the unique number that identifies a mobile phone (IMEI number), the unique identifier that is stored on SIM cards (IMSI number) and data from the cell tower at which the mobile phone call is initiated, which reveals the physical location where the phone contacted the network, according to the cease and desist letter. The IMEI is stored for 80 days, the IMSI for 30 days and the connection data of incoming and outgoing calls is stored for 92 days, wrote Starostik.

However, Vodafone is only allowed to store data used for billing purposes, and the operator does not need the data that it stores, said Starostik.

In 2008, Germany adopted an E.U. directive requiring telephone companies and ISPs to store information including data about email, phone calls and text messages for law enforcement purposes. However, the implementation of the measure was annulled in 2010 by the German Constitutional Court amid privacy concerns, noted Rena Tangens, spokeswoman for the Working Group on Data Retention. This is why people are fighting the telecom operators, she added.

In a response, which was also posted online by Starostik, Vodafone said it saw no reason to accept the cease-and-desist request of the client, because the data are indeed needed for billing purposes. The cell tower information is needed for location-based billing, and was in this case used to calculate the home tariff, Vodafone writes. The IMEI is needed to settle device-related services and could be used to check whether certain device-specific services can be provided at all, Vodafone added.

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