news Technology media outlet Delimiter today filed a Freedom of Information request for letters from public sector departments and agencies who are seeking to be added to the list of agencies authorised to access retained metadata under the Government’s controversial Data Retention legislation.
The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015 passed the Federal Parliament in March this year. For the first time, it forces Australian telcos and Internet service providers to retain comprehensive records on their customers’ Internet and telephone habits for a period of two years.
Even for major telcos such as Telstra, which were already retaining large amounts of data about their customers, the scheme significantly expands the amount and type of data which will be held compared to the telcos’ previous records.
However, the bill also limits the types of government departments and agencies which are able to access metadata under the scheme. A number of agencies less concerned with serious crime are now no longer to access telecommunications data without warrants, unless the Attorney-General of the day approves their application.
Last week Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula revealed that he had written to his Federal counterpart, George Brandis, requesting that the Victorian Racing Integrity Commissioner be added back to the data retention access list.
In the wake of the news, media outlet Computerworld has reported that a number of other organisations have also contacted the Attorney-General’s Department seeking access to metadata.
The outlet wrote: “A spokesperson from the Attorney-General’s Department has confirmed that it is “considering applications from a number of organisations for access to metadata”.”
At least one new agency — the Australian Border Force — has already been added to the list of agencies able to access retained metadata, since the Data Retention legislation passed Federal Parliament in March.
In addition, the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Law Enforcement has recommended the Australian Taxation Office be added to the list of agencies able to access metadata, as part of a report that also recommended other technological measures to curb financial crime. It is not clear whether the ATO has been added to the authorised list.
The Attorney-General’s Department has not confirmed which departments or agencies have written to it seeking access to retained metadata.
In the wake of these events, Delimiter believes that there would be a substantial public interest argument that the Attorney-General’s Department should release the list of departments and agencies which have contacted it seeking access to retained metadata.
Although the Attorney-General is required to notify the Parliament if agencies are added to the authorised list, Delimiter believes that releasing the names of those agencies applying to the Attorney-General’s Department would provide the opportunity for public debate and consideration regarding their need for access to retained metadata.