Government agencies and policing bodies accessed 84,949 Telstra customer records last financial year and according to the company’s first annual Transparency Report, only 3.9 per cent of these cases were approved by a court order or warrant.
Of the 84,949 cases of information being accessed, 6202 were related to life-threatening situations and Triple Zero emergency calls, 2701 were approved by warrants, 598 were approved by court orders and the other 75,448 were requests for carriage service records, customer information or pre-warrant checks. Telstra’s figures do not include requests from national security agencies as it is prohibited to publish such by the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act.
While Telstra received fewer than 100 requests across the countries outside of Australia in which its services operate, it reported that financial year second-half requests jumped 9 per cent from 40,644 to 44,305 in Australia. Making up around 50 per cent of the telecommunication market, it is safe to assume that other telcos have had information requested at a similar rate, taking the total number of requests to around 170,000 last financial year. This means the telecommunication customer records of seven people in every 1000 last year were accessed by a government agency of policing body, the large majority without a warrant or court order.
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Last month, the Federal Government’s National Security Committee signed off on proposed legislation which will require telecommunication companies to retain the metadata of phone and internet users’ for two years. Attempting to explain the need for the legislation, George Brandis explained that data retention is required to battle national security risks and to keep a step ahead of terrorist groups’ use of technology.
The proposed increase in the period required for data retention to two years will help our police and security forces to keep our country protected and to help in the arrest of criminals, but at what cost? The access of 75,448 Telstra customer records without a warrant or court order last financial year, making up 88.8 per cent of all data access requests, is very troubling. There is no question in my mind that the current digital laws need to be re-vamped to adjust for the changing digital landscape and the personal records of Australians need to be protected under law to allow for access by a court order, warrant or in an emergency.
What do you think? Should government agencies and policing bodies be able to access your telecommunication records without a warrant?