Australia’s government agencies made approximately 333,980 authorisations for the disclosure of historical telecommunications data – or metadata – during the financial year ending June 2016.
The latest tally, revealed in the Government’s delayed Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Annual Report 2015-16, is the first since the Federal Government’s mandatory data retention laws, passed in 2015, came into effect.
Under the laws, Australian telcos and internet service providers (ISPs) are required to store users’ non-content telecommunications data (metadata), such as email addresses, phone numbers, the date and time of communications and other items for a minimum period of two years.
The Government subsequently handed out $128.4 million of public funding to 180 ISPs around the country to help out with the costs associated with the mandatory data retention scheme.
The new laws saw the ability to apply for a stored communications warrant limited to 20 designated criminal law-enforcement agencies. Between 1 July 2015 and 12 October 2015, 63 enforcement agencies made historical data authorisations.
Likewise, the ability for enforcement agencies to authorise the disclosure of telecommunications data was also limited to the same 20 criminal law enforcement agencies, as well as and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
This restriction is likely the primary force behind the reduction in authorisations by Government agencies for the disclosure of historical telecommunications data during 2015-16 compared to the year prior.
Of the total number of such requests, 326,373 authorisations were made to enforce a criminal law.
The NSW Police alone made 105,710 authorisations for access to existing information or documents in the enforcement of a criminal law in 2016 – substantially fewer than the previous year’s tally of 114,111.
By comparison, the Victoria Police increased the number of authorisations from 66,663 to 82,034 and the Queensland Police reduced its requests from 40,710 to 29,271.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) also saw a reduction in the number of authorisations for access to existing information, from 27,462 in 2014/15 to 25,640 in 2015/16.
In FY2015-16, the AFP also made 53 data authorisations for access to telecommunications data for the enforcement of the criminal law of a foreign country.
Following these requests, the AFP made 23 disclosures to foreign law enforcement agencies, with information disclosed to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Serbia, Switzerland, Solomon Islands, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Argentina and several other countries.