Government tightlipped on organisations seeking ‘metadata’ access

The government won’t reveal which organisations or how many are seeking the right to warrant-free access to telecommunications data kept as part of the data retention scheme.

However, a spokesperson from the Attorney-General’s Department has confirmed that it is “considering applications from a number of organisations for access to metadata”.

“This is what many of us feared," said Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton.

"The government argued that the Data Retention Act would actually reduce the number of agencies with access to people’s data. But the scheme only came into effect last month and already we are seeing attempts to include those agencies that even the government thought should not be authorised.

"People around the world are starting to question data retention schemes. They start out as seemingly reasonable measures to combat serious crime and end up being made available to other agencies that don’t have the level of internal controls needed to ensure that information isn’t misused."

"The Abbott Government rushed the data retention bill through the parliament claiming it was about terrorism. At the time the general public probably thought that this was a reasonable point," Patton added.

"I don’t think they expected that such a contentious scheme would be extended to every agency that asked to be included.

Victoria’s attorney-general racing minister, Martin Pakula, revealed yesterday that the state’s Office of the Racing Integrity Commissioner was seeking access to data retained by telco service providers and ISPs under the scheme.

The commissioner, Sal Perna, has not had the authority to access telecommunications data since the data retention regime kicked in on 13 October, a letter from Pakula to attorney-general George Brandis stated.

The office approached the Attorney-General's Department in June seeking to retain access to metadata.

“I wish to lend my support to the request from Mr Perna,” Pakula wrote.

“I can confirm that his previous access to historical telecommunications data has been critical in the effective conduct of his functions under the Racing Act 1958 (Vic) and I would respectfully request that you give urgent consideration to reinstating access as was authorised prior to 13 October 2015,” the letter stated.

“In response to public concerns, and consistent with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s recommendations, access to metadata was reduced from over 80 government agencies and organisations to 22 core criminal law enforcement and security agencies,” the Attorney-General’s Department spokesperson said.

Under the data retention legislation, warrant-free access to data kept to comply with the regime was restricted to the Australian Federal Police, state police forces and anti-corruption commissions, customs, the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The legislation creating the Australian Border Force added it to the list of authorised agencies.

A parliamentary inquiry earlier this year recommended that the Australian Taxation Office be added to the list of authorised organisations.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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