Telstra reveals extent of government surveillance requests

Telstra has for the first time disclosed how many requests it receives from most government agencies for customer data.

In the last six months of 2013, Telstra received 40,644 requests from government agencies for customer data, according to the telco giant's first ever transparency report, published today.

In the vein of international tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Apple, Telstra has today detailed the volume and types of requests it receives from law enforcement agencies seeking to access the data of its customers. The report (PDF) covers requests received from government agencies — excluding national security agencies — under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act.

From July 1, 2013, to December 31, 2013, Telstra received 36,053 requests for customer information, carriage service records, and pre-warrant checks from Australian government agencies, as well as 2,871 requests related to emergencies, 270 court orders, and 1,450 warrants for interceptions.

Telstra did not disclose how many of those requests it complied with, except to say that it only discloses information in compliance with the law, and only if a request is valid within the law. Telstra said it is prohibited from disclosing the requests from national security agencies.

Telstra also highlighted in the report that while only local agencies can access data in Australia, through Telstra Global, it has networks operating in other parts of the world, and is subject to the local laws in those countries. Telstra said it received less than 100 requests for customer information in the same six-month period in other countries.

In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations of the extent of US law enforcement surveillance, Telstra came under criticism in July last year, when it was claimed that Telstra had agreed to store customer information from its Asia-United States subsea cable.

Telstra also said it complied with the controversial Section 313 requests to block websites, such as the Interpol "worst of" list of child abuse websites. Telstra said that these requests are "relatively infrequent", and do not involve releasing customer information.

The access to customer information without a warrant has been highly controversial in Australia since 2010 , when it was revealed that the government was considering plans to require telcos to retain the data for up to two years. In 2012, the then-Labor government launched an inquiry into these powers, with a view to require telcos to retain the data for at least six months.

The parliamentary committee's report from the inquiry said it was a matter for government to decide whether to implement such a regime, and neither Labor nor the new Coalition government have responded to the report's recommendations.

While Telstra will likely receive the majority of requests in the telecommunications industry, it is not the only one that will receive such requests. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act report for the last financial year revealed that government agencies gained access to data on 319,874 occasions between July 2012 and June 2013.

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