Data retention: Document reveals agencies seeking warrant-free access to telco data

A document released under freedom of information legislation has revealed the breadth of federal and state agencies seeking authorisation to access telecommunications data covered by the government’s data retention scheme.

The agencies range from state and territory revenue offices and government departments through to a local council, the RSPCA and the National Measurement Institute.

In response to freedom of information requests from Future Wise privacy analyst Geordie Guy and online publication ZDNet, the Attorney-General’s Department released the names of agencies that have applied to be added to the list of authorised agencies for the purposes of the data retention legislation.

Agencies previously known to be seeking access to the so-called ‘metadata’ retained under the scheme included WorkSafe Victoria, Victoria’s Office of the Racing Integrity Commissioner, NSW’s Roads and Maritime Services, Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA), and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The full list of agencies is:

Access Canberra (Department of Treasury and Economic Development)
ACT Revenue Office
Australian Financial Security Authority
Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)
Australian Postal Corporation
Australian Taxation Office
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)
Bankstown City Council (NSW)
Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)
Clean Energy Regulator
Consumer Affairs (Victoria)
Consumer and Business Services (South Australia)
Consumer, Building and Occupational Services (Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading – Department of Justice) (Tasmania)
Department of Agriculture
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Department of Commerce (WA)
Department of Corrective Services (WA)
Department of Defence (ADFIS and IGD)
Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport Resources (Fisheries) (Victoria)
Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (Queensland)
Department of Environment Regulation (WA)
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Victoria)
Department of Fisheries (WA)
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Department of Health
Department of Human Services
Department of Justice and Regulation (Sheriff of Victoria)
Department of Mines and Petroleum (WA)
Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries)
Department of Social Services
Department of the Environment
Environment Protection Authority (SA)
Fair Work Building and Construction
Greyhound Racing Victoria
Harness Racing New South Wales
Health Care Complaints Commission (NSW)
Legal Services Board (Victoria)
National Measurement Institute
NSW Environment Protection Authority
NSW Fair Trading
Office of Environment Heritage (NSW)
Office of Fair Trading (Department of Justice and Attorney-General Office of the Director General) (Queensland)
Office of State Revenue (NSW)
Office of State Revenue (Queensland)
Office of the Racing Integrity Commissioner (Victoria)
Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA)
Queensland Building and Construction Commission
Racing and Wagering Western Australia
Racing NSW
Racing Queensland
Roads and Maritime Services NSW
RSPCA (Victoria)
State Revenue Office (Victoria)
Taxi Services Commission (Victoira)
Victorian WorkSafe Authority

The names of four state agencies were redacted.

Authorised agencies are able to access historical telco data without applying for a warrant. Accessing the ‘content’ of a communication, such as the body of an email message, still requires a warrant in most instances (as does the interception of a communication, such as a phone call).

Additional agencies can be authorised either temporarily by the government or permanently through legislation.

The 2014-15 annual report by the Attorney-General’s Department on the operations of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 revealed a jump in warrant-free access to telco data in the lead-up to 13 October 2015, when the data retention regime came into effect.

In 2014-15, organisations authorised access to telco data a total of 365,728 times using the provisions of the act, up from 334,658 times in the prior year.

The data retention legislation reduced the number of agencies able to authorise access to historical data (in addition to government agencies under the previous provisions of the TIA Act, certain non-government organisations such as the RSPCA were able to access data in some circumstances).

Currently authorised agencies include state police forces, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission, a number of anti-corruption organisations such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Police Integrity Commission, Border Force, and a handful of other organisations including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).


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