This article has been corrected – see below

Some light has been thrown on the extent and nature of Australian Federal Police surveillance, after the Greens obtained copies of the AFP’s telephone and internet surveillance templates.

In answer to questions from Greens senator Scott Ludlam at February’s Additional Estimates hearings, the AFP has provided copies of the documents it uses to obtain information about surveillance targets from telecommunications companies and ISPs. The questions followed the release of the annual Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act report that showed law enforcement agencies obtained over 243,000 authorisations made for access to existing telecommunications information in 2010-11.

The number was down on the 280,000+ the previous year due to a big fall in NSW Police intercepts, but the Federal Police obtained nearly 23,000 accesses, up from 20,869 the year before. The data does not cover interceptions by intelligence and security agencies like ASIO.

The four warrants cover historical telephone subscriber information, SEEK data for a telephone number, user data (including credit card details and internet activity data such as log-on times and sites visited) for an IP address and call charge records — the details of telephone calls, including locational data — for identified phone numbers. Each of the intercept requests is simply authorisable by a Federal Police officer.

While the request for internet use data does not include specific content such as emails, search engine entries or postings on websites, it is normally sufficient to build up a detailed profile of an individual far beyond that provided by telephone data, even if the specific user of an IP address remains unknown. A user’s log-in times and the sites they’ve visited can allow correlation of data such as social media profiles, even if they’re used anonymously, while their web visits will reveal much about them. On the other hand, call charge records allow tracking of a user via their mobile phone location every time they call.

And what’s SEEK data? After much asking around, we finally discovered what it is: it’s not an acronym, but the name of project between Telstra and the AFP that allows access to information such a locational data for international roaming services. It’s not used very often.

Correction: the original version of this article referred to other 243,000 interception warrants; the AFP has correctly pointed out the number refers to accesses to existing information, not warrants. The relevant text has been amended above.

Peter Fray

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