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Australian agencies accessing metadata more than ever before

A long-awaited report into Australian government agencies accessing telecommunications data has revealed a 1.2 percent jump in authorisations for data in the last financial year.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

A total of 77 Australian state and federal agencies accessed the telecommunications data of citizens 334,658 times in the 2013-14 financial year, the government has revealed.

The details came in the annual report of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (PDF) that lists the interceptions and access to stored telecommunications data made by government agencies each financial year.

Of the 334,658 authorisations, the government stated that 324,260 of these were made to enforce criminal law. It has painted this figure as an improvement on the total 330,798 authorisations made in the previous financial year, as it was only a growth of 1.2 percent, compared to the 9.8 percent growth between 2011-12 and 2012-13.

NSW Police made the most requests, with 111,889 authorisations in 2013-14, followed by Victoria Police, at 63,325, and Queensland Police, at 35,663. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) had 21,358 authorisations, while the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) does not have to disclose its metadata access.

For access requests made by Commonwealth enforcement agencies, Customs had the most, at 6,196 for the year -- a significant rise from 3,902 from the previous financial year.

For state and territory organisations, the most requests came from Corrections Victoria, at 389. RSPCA Victoria, The Hills Shire Council, Racing NSW, and the WA Department of Commerce also accessed metadata in the last financial year.

The Australian Federal Police also revealed in the report that it had handed over data 17 times to foreign law-enforcement agencies in Russia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.

Notable exclusions from this list are Australia's fellow members of the Five Eyes alliance: The United States, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

There were 572 requests for stored communications under a warrant, with 571 authorised. The government has said that this resulted in 153 arrests, 176 proceedings, and 144 convictions.

There was a total of 4,007 warrants issued for the interception of telecommunications, down from 4,232 in the previous financial year. The most were authorised to NSW Police, at 1,514 warrants issued. There were a total of 2,938 arrests, 4,008 prosecutions, and 2,210 convictions in the financial year based on intercepted telecommunications, the report stated.

Interception for the 2013-14 financial year cost the AFP AU$10.5 million, while it cost NSW Police AU$6.8 million, and Victoria Police AU$6.6 million.

In the 2013-14 financial year, there were 1,511 requests for the preservation of stored communications for the companies to retain this data while a warrant is obtained to access the data.

The report is typically tabled by the attorney-general in November or early December; however, the government waited over seven months longer before tabling the report, coinciding it with the introduction and passage of new legislation that forces telecommunications companies to keep so-called metadata for two years for access by agencies without a warrant.

Organisations like RSPCA Victoria cannot access data stored under the new scheme, but can apply to be added, with parliamentary approval.

The Attorney-General's Department has previously denied that the report was late, stating that its tabling varies from year to year. The department had not responded to a request for comment on Thursday.

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