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Victorian AG seeks retained data for racing

The attorney-general has claimed that access to telco data is 'vital' and 'urgent' for Victoria's racing commissioner to prevent corruption.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Victorian Attorney-General and Minister for Racing Martin Pakula has written to Australian Attorney-General George Brandis requesting that the Department of Racing be granted access to data stored under the mandatory data-retention legislation in order to prevent corruption.

Pakula, who posted a copy of the letter on Twitter, said the data is "vital" in order "to ensure that out racing industry is free from corruption, and that our regulators have the tools necessary to ensure effective regulation of the industry".

Pakula threw his weight behind Victorian Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna, who in mid October complained that his access to telecommunications data had been suspended.

"I can confirm that his previous access to historical telecommunications data has been critical in the effective conduct of his functions under the Racing Act 1958 (Vic), and I would respectfully request that you give urgent consideration to reinstating access as was authorised prior to 13 October 2015," the letter, published by Pakula on Australia's biggest day of the racing season, reads.

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015, passed by the Australian government in March for the primary purpose of policing terrorism and other crime, came into effect last month. It will see customers' call records, location information, IP addresses, billing information, and other data stored by telecommunications carriers for two years, accessible without a warrant by law-enforcement agencies.

While the original data-retention Bill had required only the attorney-general of the day to approve more agencies to the list of those that can access the data retained, the Labor Party insisted on an amendment that requires Parliament to approve the addition of any new agencies.

Only a select number of agencies can now access the data; however, in May, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) was quietly added to the list of agencies permitted to access the data after Parliament passed the Customs and Other Legislation Amendment (Australian Border Force) Bill 2015.

"[Attorney-General George] Brandis made a great show of narrowing the range of agencies that would be able to access this collected material. And here we are in parliament, on the very next sitting week after that mandatory data-retention Bill passed, and the first example of scope creep lies on the table today," Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam criticised.

The addition of the DIBP side-stepped the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Intelligence and Security approval process, Ludlam said, and came despite the department in question having a poor security track record.

In February last year, the department accidentally published the details of almost 10,000 asylum seekers, including their full names, dates of birth, genders, nationalities, periods of immigration detention, locations, boat arrival information, and the reasons why an entrant was classified as having travelled into Australia "unlawfully".

The breach occurred due to a DIBP staff member having copied and pasted a Microsoft Excel chart into a Word document, with the underlying data rendering the chart in Excel then embedded in the Word document.

The information was available on the department's website for just over eight days, remaining on its archive site for 14 days, and was removed from both sites only once publication The Guardian had alerted the department of the breach.

This was followed by the Federal Court in September ruling that DIBP's impact assessment of the breach had been "procedurally unfair".

In April, the DIBP established a task force into its own accountability and information management practices after a similar gaffe where the passport numbers, dates of birth, and visa information of world leaders attending last year's G20 summit in Brisbane -- including those of US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin -- were accidentally emailed to a member of the Asian Cup Local Organising Committee.

In July, the Labor opposition party called for a review of the data-retention legislation despite helping to pass the law, saying the retention period, cost, and provision of warrantless access all need to be revisited.

At the 2015 ALP National Conference, the party passed an amendment to its Draft National Platform to include a review of the law, saying it creates "a culture of fear" and invades the privacy of Australian citizens.

"These laws help create a culture of fear, a culture where we are all under suspicion and subject to heightened mass surveillance," New South Wales Labor MP Jo Haylen said.

"The challenge for lawmakers is to strike the right balance ... between privacy and security, between transparency and strength, and between the power of government and the rights of citizens. The government's data-retention laws do not strike the right balance, and neither does Labor's support of these laws."

Specifically, Labor is moving to review the list of agencies that can access the communications data.

"Labor wants to ensure that the types of agencies with access to the data and purposes for which the data is available are appropriate. We want to ensure that the current warrants scheme and the threshold conditions on warrantless access are appropriate and that freedom of the press is protected," the amendment says.

"We do not need laws that empower the attorney-general to add more agencies to that list on a whim and forever expand the government's access to our digital lives," Haylen added.

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