A report on authorisations by government organisations to access so-called metadata under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 reveals not only a significant increase in the number of authorisations but a surprising array of organisations employing the provisions of the TIA Act for investigations.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, the WA Department of Environment Regulation, Roads and Maritime Services NSW, Primary Industries and Regions (South Australia), the Taxis Services Commission in Victoria, and the RSPCA in Tasmania are among the organisations that accessed metadata in 2014-15 but not in 2013-14.
Alongside state and federal police and other crimefighting bodies, organisations such as Australia Post and a number of city councils were also among those that accessed telecommunications data in the 12-month period.
The Attorney-General’s Department is obliged to release an annual report on the operation of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.
In 2014-15, agencies authorised access to telco ‘metadata’ a total of 365,728 times, the report reveals; of those, 354,841 were related to enforcing a criminal law.
The latest report (PDF), covering the 2014-15 financial year, reveals 83 authorised agencies accessed telecommunications metadata.
The 2013-14 report revealed that 77 enforcement agencies made 334,658 authorisations for telco data.
Metadata can be accessed without a warrant.
The data retention legislation passed earlier this year narrowed the number of organisations able to access metadata.
Under the 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 newly created Australian Border Force later added to the list of authorised agencies.
A parliamentary inquiry earlier this year recommended that the Australian Taxation Office be added to the list.
A number of other organisations have applied for metadata access; however the government won’t reveal which organisations or the total number to have applied.
The data retention regime came into effect on 13 October.
Future editions of the TIA Act annual report will include additional data related to the scheme, including information about what offences telecommunications data has been sought in relation to and the number of requests for subscriber data and network traffic data.