Alarming police metadata access

There is currently a parliamentary inquiry as to whether phone and internet firms should be forced to hold customer data (metadata) for at least two years. Information provided to the inquiry shows that Victorian police officers sought authorisation to access customer data 63,000 times in 2013/14, just over 1200 times a week. When applied nationally on a per capita basis, and including the average of the past five years provided by the Australian Federal Police, we come up with around 277,060 requests for data last year.

Privacy advocates have warned that the implementation of forced data retention for telecommunications companies would see this yearly request for access rise significantly.

The Secretary of the Victorian Police Association, Ron Iddles, has defended the frequency of access to private metadata records, arguing that current request rates were reasonable and equated to one request per week from each detective in the force.

Mr Iddles also pointed out that without access to metadata, many serious crimes would remain unsolved. The recent high profile case of Jill Meagher is a particular example where metadata was the core evidential component in tracking down and convicting the accused party.

“We were able to track a particular phone which was contrary to the account which was given by the accused,” said Mr Iddles. “We were able to track Jill Meagher’s phone through this data to where her location was, to where she was buried, and show that only one phone came back.

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Opinion: Privacy versus security

Crime fighting and prevention techniques continue to evolve and the use of metadata by the police force is the biggest advance of the 21st century. No matter who you are or what you do statistics show that, more than likely, you are walking around with a mobile phone turned on in your pocket. Whether you are making a phone call, sending or receiving a text message, or simply have your phone turned on, your phone is sending data back to your telecommunication company which is then being recorded as metadata.

Since the word metadata hit the headlines last year, privacy advocates have been making out that when police access your metadata, they can read or listen to communications, which simply isn’t true. A phone-based metadata request will provide the police with the account holder’s name, time and duration of calls made, as well as the location of the device at the time a call is made. Internet based metadata requests provide police with even less information, with just IP addresses and email addresses used in internet communications revealed.

The reason why the current parliamentary inquiry is so important for police and security agencies is because some telecommunication companies have shown resistance to retaining metadata for more than short-term periods, while others have stopped keeping records, because the way they charge customers can change.

The police are only accessing the metadata required to solve crimes, so I cannot understand the reasoning put up by privacy advocates to prevent the mandatory telecommunication industry metadata retention plans. As long as we allow access to metadata records, the police will have the best opportunity possible to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice.

What do you think? Are you concerned that your private telecommunication information could be accessed by the police? Or is it a case of if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about?

Written by Drew Patchell

Drew Patchell was the Digital Operations Manager of YourLifeChoices. He joined YourLifeChoices in 2005 after completing his Bachelor of Business at Swinburne University. Drew has a passion for all things technology which is only rivalled for his love of all things sport.

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