Data retention: Telco group says councils, Australia Post among organisations accessing ‘metadata’

Communications Alliance claims dozens of agencies are accessing ‘metadata’

Telecommunications industry group Communications Alliance has revealed details of dozens of state and federal departments and agencies it claims are accessing so-called communications ‘metadata’.

The 2015 legislation that introduced the data retention regime authorised a list of “criminal law-enforcement agencies” to obtain warrant-free access to metadata. Those agencies included federal, state and territory police agencies, a number of anti-corruption bodies, Border Force, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission; and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

However, last month at the hearing of an inquiry into the government’s bill aimed at enhancing police access to encrypted communications services, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said that a significantly larger number of organisations were accessing information kept by telcos to meet their data retention obligations.

Stanton told the hearing that since the “trim-down” of agencies by the data retention legislation, “many state based agencies have come forward and started using their own state based powers to request metadata under Section 313 [of the Telecommunications Act]”.

There has been “some authority creep, I guess you might call it, in the period since the data retention regime came into place,” he said.

Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act is a broadly worded provision that requires telcos to “give officers and authorities of the Commonwealth and of the States and Territories such help as is reasonably necessary” for “enforcing the criminal law and laws imposing pecuniary penalties”, “assisting the enforcement of the criminal laws in force in a foreign country”, “protecting the public revenue”, and “safeguarding national security”.

In other cases, Communications Alliance says organisations have used Section 280 (1)(b) of the Telecommunications Act to request access to metadata. That section of the act allows information to be disclosed if “the disclosure or use is required or authorised by or under law”, and Communications Alliance says that it allows “agencies to use their own powers to seek access to such data”.

In a document submitted to the inquiry, Communications Alliance lists 81 entities that it says have used either or both of the sections to access data. (That figure includes in some cases separate functions of the same organisations, such as the Australian Federal Police’s ACT Policing wing as well as its Professional Standards group).

In addition to police agencies and other organisations listed in the data retention legislation, it includes Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office, Australia Post’s Corporate Security Group, Workplace Health and Safety, Work Safe Victoria, the Taxi Services Commission and a number of local councils.

A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services flatly denied that Centrelink had accessed telecommunications metadata since the introduction of data retention.

“We have not made any such enquiries for access to metadata since 2015 when the legislation was amended,” a spokesperson said. “We conduct our fraud and compliance investigations within accordance to all relevant legislation.”

The spokesperson said the department has “no authority under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 to request metadata”.

Communications Alliance has been approached for comment.

Many of the organisations are those that previously accessed metadata before the government introduced the data retention law. When the legislation was introduced, cutting down on the number of organisations that could access the data without a warrant was used as a selling point by the government.

The full list submitted by Communications Alliance:

Australian Crime Commission

Australian Border Force

ACLEI

AFP

AFP ACT Policing

AFP PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

AFSA

ASIC

Australian Tax Office

Australia Post Corporate Security Group

Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency

BANKSTOWN CITY COUNCIL

BRISBANE CITY COUNCIL

CENTRELINK

CONSUMER & BUSINESS AFFAIRS – VIC

Corrections Intelligence Group – NSW

CRIME AND MISCONDUCT COMMISSION

Customs

Department of Agriculture

Department of Defence

Department of Environment and Conservation WA

DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, JOBS, TRANSPORT & RESOURCES

DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION

DEPT FAIR TRADING NSW

DEPT FAIR TRADING-BRISBANE

DEPT OF COMMERCE WA

DEPT OF FAMILIES, HOUSING COMMUNITY SERVICES

DIBP BRISBANE

DIBP CANBERRA

DIBP MELBOURNE

DIBP QLD

DIBP SYDNEY

FACS

FAIRFIELD CITY COUNCIL

FAIR WORK BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION

HEALTHCARE COMPLAINTS COMMISSIONS

IBAC

ICAC SYDNEY

NSW CC

NSW EPA

NSW Office of State Revenue

NSW Police

NSW POLICE PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

NSW Government Trade, Investment, Resources and Energy

NT POLICE

NTPOL

OFFICE OF ENVIRONMENT & HERITAGE

OFFICE OF STATE REVENUE NSW

Police Integrity Commission – NSW

PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND RESOURCES SA

PRIMARY INDUSTRIES NSW

PRIMARY INDUSTRIES QLD

PRIMARY INDUSTRIES VIC

QLD Department of Fair Trading

QLD TRANSPORT

Queensland Police Service

Racing Integrity VIC

REGIONAL ILLEGAL DUMPING SQUAD

Rockdale City Council

SA FISHERIES

SA ICAC

SA POLICE ANTI CORRUPTION

SA POLICE INTERNAL INVESTIGATION BRANCH

SA POLICE STATE INTELLIGENCE

TAS POLICE

TAS POLICE INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS

Taxi Services Commission

TRANSPORT ACCIDENT COMMISSION MELBOURNE

VIC DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, JOBS, TRANSPORT AND RESOURCES

VIC Department of Justice

VIC Department of Health and Human Services

VIC POLICE ETHICAL STANDARDS

VIC INSTITUTE OF TEACHING

VIC POLICE

VIC Sheriff’s Offices

WA CCC

WA Department of Fair Trading

WA FISHERIES

WA POLICE STATE INTELLIGENCE DIVISION

Work Safe VIC

WORKPLACE HEALTH & SAFETY

Updates: November 14 17:00 AEDT to clarify source of organisations listed.

November 14 20:00 AEDT to include Department of Human Services statement.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentprivacyTelecommunicationsdata retention

More about ACTAFPAustraliaAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionAustralian Crime CommissionAustralian Federal PoliceAustralian Securities and Investments CommissionAustralian Taxation OfficeAustralia PostCentrelinkCommunications AllianceDepartment of DefenceDepartment of Fair TradingDepartment of HealthDepartment of Human ServicesDepartment of JusticeDIBPFederal PoliceICACNSW GovernmentNSW PolicePolice Integrity CommissionRockdale City CouncilTAS

Show Comments