In FY17 Telstra received more warrants for telecommunications interception or access to stored communications compared to the prior year. However, the telco has revealed it received fewer requests for warrant-free access to customer information — often dubbed telecommunications ‘metadata’.
The telco’s annual sustainability report reveals Telstra received 2617 warrants for interception or access to stored communications during the year — compared to 2478 in the prior year.
Telstra also said it received 65,715 free requests for customer information, call records and pre-warrant checks (which confirms that a telecommunications service of interest to a law enforcement agency is still active). In FY16 it received 82,748 such requests.
Australia’s data retention regime, which requires telcos to retain for 24 months a range of data related to customers’ use of their services, commenced on 13 October 2015.
As part of the data retention scheme, the number of organisations able to self-authorise access to a range of ‘historical’ telecommunications data — such as call records and customer information — was cut significantly.
The Attorney-General’s Department last month released the FY16 report on the use of powers covered by the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. That report revealed that collectively law enforcement agencies authorised 332,639 disclosures of historical telecommunications data in 2015-16, down from the 2014-15 figure of 360,771.
The report for FY17 is yet to be released.
Under the data retention legislation, the number of organisations that have warrant-free access to metadata has dropped to 21: State, territory and federal police forces and anti-corruption bodies, the Australian Crime Commission, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Before the data retention regime kicked in, so-called metadata could be accessed by any agency that met the definition of “enforcement agency” under the TIA Act; that included any organisation that enforced a criminal law, a law imposing a pecuniary penalty or a law that protected public revenue.
Telstra’s sustainability report states that during FY17 it received 5917 requests for data in response to life-threatening situations and Triple Zero Emergency Calls. It was also required to disclose data on 479 occasions in response to court orders.
In addition the report notes that it received 139 requests to implement DNS-based website blocking. Government agencies are able to request access to online services be disrupted using a power granted by Section 313(3) of the Telecommunications Act. However, most if not all of the website-blocking requests reported by Telstra relate to court action by Village Roadshow, Foxtel and a number of Australian music labels.
A series of Federal Court injunctions has compelled major Internet service providers, including Telstra, to take steps to prevent their customers from accessing a number of major sites linked to copyright infringement. DNS blocking has so far been the preferred means of implementing the court orders.