The departments of Health, Human Services, Agriculture and the Environment 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, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, 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.