Telstra agreed to retain data for US authorities

Telstra signed an agreement in 2001 to retain data for US authorities, a document leaked to several media outlets has revealed.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Telstra signed an agreement in 2001 to retain communications data carried across its cable linking Asia to the US for US authorities, a document leaked to several media outlets, including ZDNet, has revealed.

The document is an agreement signed by Telstra, Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW), their joint international cable company Reach, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the US Department of Justice.

The agreement required Telstra to retain data in a US storage facility that is configured for access by US authorities for the purpose of electronic surveillance.

The company was required to retain telecommunications metadata, such as the time of the call, the length of the call, and all associated billing information, for two years. In addition, Telstra must be able to provide to the US communications of its customers that are made within the US. Under the contract, Telstra must also be able to begin preserving the communications of specific customers when asked by the US authorities.

The leak of the previously classified document occurred as the US continues to come under criticism from its own citizens and nations across the world over the revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has claimed to be able to collect, in real time, user data from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple, and PalTalk.

On the revelation that Telstra has also been providing data to US authorities, a spokesperson for Telstra said it was just to ensure compliance with US law.

"This agreement, at that time 12 years ago, reflected Reach's operating obligations in the US that require carriers to comply with US domestic law," the spokesperson said.

ZDNet received the Telstra document earlier this week; however, we were waiting for further detail on the impact that the agreement has had on Australian customers, and information on whether Telstra is still retaining the data at the behest of the US law enforcement agencies. The company has thus far not provided any more detail other than the above statement.

The Greens have called on Telstra to provide a full disclosure on the details of the deal.

"Telstra, at the time majority owned and controlled by the Howard government, struck a deal to allow 24/7 surveillance of calls going in and out of the United States, including calls made by Australians. The cables in question are operated by Telstra subsidiary Reach, which controls more than 40 major telecommunications cables in the region, including cables in and out of China and Australia," Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said.

"While the current Australian government recently pushed then abandoned a two-year mandatory data retention scheme, for more than a decade, this secret deal with the United States compelled Telstra, Reach, and PCCW to store all customer billing data for two years."

Ludlam said that the agreement was an "extraordinary breach of trust, invasion of privacy, and erosion of Australia's sovereignty".

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