Phone, net watchers fuel ‘surveillance state’ fears


The Attorney-General’s Department has released figures showing federal and state agencies accessed telecommunications data and internet logs more than 250,000 times during criminal and revenue investigations in 2010-11.

Greens senator Scott Ludlam has called for tighter controls.

”We’ve already taken some pretty dangerous steps in this country towards the surveillance state,” Senator Ludlam told a recent conference on internet privacy, ”and not that many of us are either interested or aware that it’s going on, including people like me who should know better.”

Data available to police, security and other government agencies under federal telecommunications law includes phone and internet account information, outwards and inwards call details, phone and internet access location data, and details of Internet Protocol addresses visited, though not the actual content of communications. Access is authorised by senior police officers or officials rather than by judicial warrant.

Federal government agencies using telecommunications data include the Australia Federal Police, Australian Crime Commission, the Tax Office, the departments of Defence, Immigration and Citizenship and Health and Ageing, Medicare and Australia Post.

Data was also accessed by state police and anti-corruption bodies, government departments and revenue offices, the RSPCA in Queensland and Victoria, the Victorian Taxi Directorate and Wyndham City Council in Melbourne’s west.

Victoria Police was the largest user of telecommunications data, with 65,703 authorisations in 2010-11. The force has reported a jump of more than 50 per cent in authorisations over two years.

The scale of telecommunications data mining by police and security agencies has also been illustrated by the release under freedom of information of a ”highly protected” report on a single AFP-Defence Department leak investigation in 1999-2001. In an effort to identify the source of leaks to the media of secret intelligence reports on East Timor, the AFP and Defence security investigators accessed phone call records of nearly 14,000 phone services totalling more than 77,000 calls.

The Australian Privacy Foundation recently noted that it was now easy to track a person’s mobile devices, smartphones and tablets ”in real-time, or retrospectively”.
Author: Philip Dorling


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