AFP and NSW Police used Australia's encryption laws seven times in 2018-19

Seven Technical Assistance Requests made with no Technical Assistance Notices or Technical Capability Notices issued.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Department of Home Affairs has revealed it used Australia's contentious encryption laws seven times in the period between 1 July 2018 and 30 June 2019 in the latest Telecommunications (Interception And Access) Act 1979 – Annual Report 2018-19.

Following the passage of the laws through Parliament in late 2018, this is the first report to include statistics related to them.

The report states that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) used the laws five times and NSW Police used the laws two times.

All seven instances were Technical Assistance Requests, which are voluntary requests for the designated communications providers to use their existing capabilities to access user communications. The laws also create Technical Assistance Notices and Technical Capability Notices, which are compulsory notices to compel communications providers to use or create a new interception capability, respectively.

For the AFP, it used the notices in six cases of cybercrime, two cases of organised offences, five telecommunications offences, and in one instance of theft. NSW Police used the requests in the case of one homicide and one illicit drug offence.

Over the same period, the report also revealed the cost of compliance with Australia's data retention scheme topped AU$229 million, with costs of $17.5 million incurred for 2018-19, and total costs recovered sitting at AU$46.5 million, with AU$7.4 million recovered in 2018-19.

Of almost 297,000 authorisations for retained data, over a third were from the NSW Police with 107,600 authorisations, followed by Victoria Police with 88,000, and Queensland Police with almost 24,000.

The vast majority of data, almost 254,000 disclosures, were aged less than three months and involved subscriber data rather than traffic data.

In July, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity said it would like data retained for a period longer than two years.

"Six journalist information warrants were issued to the AFP under which 20 historical data authorisations were made for the enforcement of the criminal law," the report said.

During the year to June 30, no additional agencies were declared capable of asking for metadata.

Over the period covered by the report, 3,561 interception warrants were issued to interception agencies, an increase of 37, while 1,252 stored communications warrants were issued to criminal law-enforcement agencies, an increase of 424.

"The majority of serious offences that were specified in interception warrants issued were serious drug and trafficking offences (1,937 times specified), followed by loss of life or personal injury offences (565 times specified) and murder (333 times specified)," the report said.

"Law enforcement agencies made 565 arrests, conducted 884 proceedings, and obtained 280 convictions based on evidence obtained under stored communications warrants."

The report said information from interception warrants were used in 2,588 arrests, 5,030 prosecutions, and 3,400 convictions, while law enforcement agencies made 565 arrests, conducted 884 proceedings, and obtained 280 convictions based on evidence obtained under stored communications warrants.

Australia's 20 enforcement agencies made 295,691 authorisations for the disclosure of historical telecommunications data, a drop of 5,433 authorisations compared to the prior report, with 291,353 authorisations relating to criminal law.

"The majority of criminal law offences for which historical telecommunications data was requested were illicit drug offences (72,677 requests), followed by 28,457 requests for fraud and related offences and 25,608 requests for homicide offences," the report said.

Authorisations relating to prospective telecommunications data, defined as "telecommunications data that comes into existence during a period of time in which an authorisation is in force", were made 27,824 times, an increase of 3,877 on last year.

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