Greens metadata Bill costly: Vic anti-corruption commission

Requiring a warrant for telecommunications metadata would lead to agencies not accessing data before telecommunications providers delete it, according to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.

A Greens proposal to require government agencies to have a warrant to obtain telecommunications metadata would raise costs and delay investigations, according to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC).

Currently, government agencies can obtain telecommunications metadata — the time, location, and call number — from telecommunications companies through internal authorisation, without requiring the agencies to get a judge to approve the handover.

In the last financial year, over 40 government agencies received 293,501 authorisations to access metadata.

Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam introduced a Bill into the Senate last month that would require the agencies to obtain warrants before accessing the metadata — something that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus have both said would cause law enforcement in Australia to grind to a halt.

The Bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Intelligence and Security for review, and in the first submission published to the inquiry, first reported by Communications Day, IBAC commissioner Stephen O'Bryan warned that the financial and administrative cost that the Bill would impose on IBAC and similar agencies would be significant and more "intrusive".

"In my view, the Bill has the potential to impose significant administrative and cost burdens on IBAC and other integrity agencies, to expose investigations by integrity agencies to delays and the risk of data loss, and to create a more intrusive telecommunications data access scheme," he said.

He said that metadata is a valuable asset in investigating a person's contact network, but raises fewer privacy concerns because metadata does not include the content of communications. Creating the need for a warrant just to get that data would result in delays in drafting warrants and obtaining them from the issuing authorities, and could result in data being lost, he said.

"There is currently no consistency between the various carriers and carrier service providers with respect to what data they retain, and for how long," he said.

The Attorney-General's Department had floated the idea of requiring carriers to retain metadata for up to two years; however, after a scathing parliamentary report into the proposed scheme, Dreyfus said the government would hold off on any mandatory data retention regime for the time being.

The IBAC had no authorisations in the last reporting period ending on 30 June, 2012, because O'Bryan became the first permanent commissioner in Victoria on January 1, 2013. The closest agency to IBAC is the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which in the last report received 594 authorisations for access to metadata in 2011-12.