Bankstown City Council, the National Measurement Institute and Australia Post are among 61 government agencies that have applied to be able to access telecommunications data without a warrant.
Under legislation passed last year, which came into effect in October, telecommunications companies are required to store so-called metadata such as call records, assigned IP addresses, contact information and location information for a minimum of two years. This data can then be accessed by just 22 government agencies, including the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, state police agencies and Border Force. This is down from the 83 agencies that had access to the data in the financial year prior to the legislation passing, and was a gesture from the government to show commitment to keeping use of metadata purely for law enforcement purposes.
Attorney-General George Brandis highlighted the reduction when the legislation passed last year:
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“We recognise that the right to privacy and the principle of freedom of the press are fundamental to our democracy. For these reasons, the bill contains new and strengthened safeguards. These include the provision of new oversight powers to the Commonwealth Ombudsman; a reduction in the number of agencies accessing metadata from over 80 to 21; and specific protections for journalists and their sources.”
The legislation does, however, give agencies left off the list the ability to apply to the Attorney-General to seek access. In response to a freedom of information request filed by both technology publication ZDNet and privacy campaigner Geordie Guy, this week the Attorney-General’s department revealed 61 agencies had applied for access since the law came into effect.
The names of four state government agencies were redacted on the grounds that releasing the names of the agencies would cause damage to Commonwealth-state relations.
The agencies that have requested to be given access are:
- Australian Financial Security Authority
- Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
- Australia Post
- Australian Taxation Office
- Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)
- Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)
- Clean Energy Regulator
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Defence
- Department of Environment
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
- Department of Health
- Department of Human Services
- Department of Social Services
- Fair Work Building and Construction
- National Measurement Institute
- ACT Revenue Office
- Access Canberra (Department of Treasury and Economic Development)
- Bankstown City Council
- Consumer Affairs Victoria
- Consumer, Building and Occupational Services Tasmania
- Consumer and Business Affairs South Australia
- Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
- WA Department of Commerce
- WA Department of Corrective Services
- Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
- Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport & Resources
- Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
- WA Department of Environment Regulation
- WA Department of Fisheries
- Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation (Consumer Affairs)
- Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation (Sheriff of Victoria)
- WA Department of Mines and Petroleum
- NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries)
- SA Environment Protection Authority
- Greyhound Racing Victoria
- Harness Racing NSW
- NSW Health Care Complaints Commission
- Victorian Legal Services Board
- NSW Environment Protection Authority
- NSW Fair Trading
- NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
- Qld Office of Fair Trading
- NSW Office of State Revenue
- Qld Office of State Revenue
- Victorian Office of the Racing Integrity Commissioner
- Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
- Queensland Building and Construction Commission
- Racing and Wagering Western Australia
- Racing NSW
- Racing Queensland
- Roads and Maritime Services NSW
- RSPCA Victoria
- Victorian State Revenue Office
- Taxi Services Commission Victoria
- Victorian WorkSafe Authority
Under the legislation, the Attorney-General can, via legislative instrument, declare particular agencies to be “criminal law enforcement agencies” to get access to metadata, but the data attention legislation needs to be amended. The Attorney-General can give temporary access to specific agencies that request it, but the legislation must be amended within 40 sitting days after access is granted in order to keep that access permanently. Any change to the legislation must also be examined by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security.
Some agencies have already had their applications rejected. Crikey has confirmed that Australia Post applied after the legislation came into effect in October but was rejected. Australia Post wanted to track stolen mobile phones from the company’s retail stores by tracking their location using information stored by the carriers themselves as part of the mandatory data retention scheme.
Crikey has asked the Attorney-General’s Department to confirm which government agencies have had their applications rejected. While the department would not state whether any agencies were rejected, it did state that no temporary access had been granted to any government agencies.
In the report for metadata access for the financial year ending June 30, 2015, 83 government agencies requested access to stored metadata 371,831 times, up from 345,056 in the 2013-2014 financial year.
Added information provided by the Attorney-General’s Department.