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Jan 18, 2016

Over 60 agencies apply to snoop into your metadata

Why does the National Measurement Institute want to get its hands on your metadata?

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:

“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:

  1. Australian Financial Security Authority
  2. Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
  3. Australia Post
  4. Australian Taxation Office
  5. Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)
  6. Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)
  7. Clean Energy Regulator
  8. Department of Agriculture
  9. Department of Defence
  10. Department of Environment
  11. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  12. Department of Health
  13. Department of Human Services
  14. Department of Social Services
  15. Fair Work Building and Construction
  16. National Measurement Institute
  17. ACT Revenue Office
  18. Access Canberra (Department of Treasury and Economic Development)
  19. Bankstown City Council
  20. Consumer Affairs Victoria
  21. Consumer, Building and Occupational Services Tasmania
  22. Consumer and Business Affairs South Australia
  23. [Redacted]
  24. [Redacted]
  25. Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  26. WA Department of Commerce
  27. WA Department of Corrective Services
  28. Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
  29. Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport & Resources
  30. Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
  31. WA Department of Environment Regulation
  32. WA Department of Fisheries
  33. Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation (Consumer Affairs)
  34. Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation (Sheriff of Victoria)
  35. WA Department of Mines and Petroleum
  36. [Redacted]
  37. NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries)
  38. SA Environment Protection Authority
  39. Greyhound Racing Victoria
  40. Harness Racing NSW
  41. NSW Health Care Complaints Commission
  42. Victorian Legal Services Board
  43. NSW Environment Protection Authority
  44. NSW Fair Trading
  45. NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
  46. Qld Office of Fair Trading
  47. NSW Office of State Revenue
  48. Qld Office of State Revenue
  49. Victorian Office of the Racing Integrity Commissioner
  50. Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
  51. Queensland Building and Construction Commission
  52. Racing and Wagering Western Australia
  53. Racing NSW
  54. Racing Queensland
  55. Roads and Maritime Services NSW
  56. RSPCA Victoria
  57. Victorian State Revenue Office
  58. Taxi Services Commission Victoria
  59. [Redacted]
  60. RevenueSA
  61. 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.

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9 thoughts on “Over 60 agencies apply to snoop into your metadata

  1. En Quiry

    This spate of applications has been caused by the latest in management trends to rear its head in the public service – banning office email. The theory being to encourage collaboration, which is coincidentally (or not) an appropriate term in the circumstances, given its historical flavour typically associated with WWII. The drive towards metadata also comes after access from work computers to e-bay,,, gumtree, etc. was restricted, a large proportion of working hours having been spent on these and vast amounts of download data used up. Canberra neighbours in particular can now spy with alacrity on each other. Workplace harassers and stalkers can have a field day. The community will grow a lot closer. And time at work will be most amusingly filled in.

  2. AR

    Gotta wonder who redactions #23, 24, 36 & 5 are.

  3. Stuart Hamilton

    With AR, I think the 4 names ‘redacted’ are the most interesting thing about this list, but I was reminded by the use of that word of how it has crept into the language over the last few years with a brand new meaning of ‘censored’ or ‘covered up’. These words are far too blunt for public or private bureaucracies of course so have to be themselves censored, so the inoffensive little word ‘redacted’, which used to mean simply ‘edited’ or ‘collated’ has been pressed into service. It makes the whole process of censorship seem so harmless and prosaic. There’s a nice piece about it in the UK Daily Telegraph –
    Perhaps fully(sic) might take an interest in this euphemistic imperative.

  4. Stuart Coyle

    I assume that two of the redacted entries are ASIO and ASIS.

  5. AR

    StuC – unlikely as they are specifically entitled in the Act itself.
    The list is those wanting in on the fun & frolic.

  6. Norman Hanscombe

    Where else but with Joshua and his acolytes would one look for enthusuastic low quality conspiracy theorists.

  7. Tim Senior

    As a doctor, I’m very curious as to why AHPRA, the Department of Health and the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission want access to the metadata. Any thoughts?

  8. Mark Stapleton

    Laughing like a drain – this list includes ‘redacted’ agencies? so we ae not allowed to know who has even ASKED? Ha Ha Ha!

  9. Vince Bagusauskas

    Read why the RSPCA Victoria (not even a government organisation) thinks it is important to have these powers:
    Try finding in their Annual Reports how many successful prosecutions they have had against the number of complaints for “serious crimes”.