A Pacific telecommunications giant recently acquired by Australia’s Telstra has been a conduit for spying activity, alleges a new report.
Digicel Pacific was purchased last year with major backing from Australia’s federal government over fears a Chinese-backed entity could swoop in and take over the company while establishing a foothold for Beijing-backed surveillance activity.
The $1.6 billion buyout was carried out amidst ongoing competition in the region between democratic allies and the Chinese Communist Party.
A new report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab reveals that “spies-for-hire” had leased or gained use of “global titles,” in an analysis released to the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Global titles are unique addresses or midpoints, similar to a TCP/IP model domain name, that allows users to message each other around the world.
Surveillance companies, hired by governments to track criminals or terrorists, may gain access to global titles and locate individual mobile phones, or track messages and calls.
In some instances, spying operations may run malicious attacks targeting the user.
According to the Mobile Surveillance Monitor project, Citizen Lab found Digicel’s global titles had been used for such activity, noting that the company’s networks were untouched.
The group further alleged that global titles from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu, had received 21,000 suspicious queries over the 12 months to July.
Telstra Says Global Titles Being Phased Out
Telstra has responded to the allegations saying the list of global titles identified by Citizen Lab and provided to the telecommunications firm were no longer customers of Digicel Pacific and have been blocked.
“Digicel Pacific closely monitors its network in order to prevent and shut down any suspicious activity that occurs as a result of the granting of global title leases,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times.
“When Digicel Pacific terminates a global title lease, that global title is blocked from accessing global networks provided by our signalling partners within 12 hours.”
“While Telstra does not grant global title leases itself, it is working with Digicel Pacific on a program to terminate all of their remaining global title leases,” he continued.
Telstra said it has terminated 12 global title leases in the past 14 months and will exit the remaining contracts by April 2024 or earlier if further issues emerge.
Digicel Pacific was founded in 2006 by Irish entrepreneur Denis O’Brien and provides communication and mobile services across Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu—some of Australia’s closest neighbours. The group generated US$235 million in 2020.
The South Pacific region has been the centre of a tug-o-war between democratic allies and Beijing. The Chinese regime has used initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, vaccine donations, and diplomatic influence to gain support from Pacific Island leaders.