Australian telcos coughed to cops 600,000 times in one year

20,000 more disclosures than last year, and this is before metadata retention kicks in

Tin Can Telephone

Australia's telecommunications companies disclosed information to Australian authorities 600,019 times in 2014/15, according to the annual reports of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The new report (PDF) lists “Disclosures made under Part 13 of the Telecommunications Act 1997— by carriers and carriage service providers.” Part 13, as summarised in the Act, explains that carriers must “protect the confidentiality of information” communicated over their services, other than “in limited circumstances (for example, disclosure or use for purposes relating to the enforcement of the criminal law).”

In 2014/15, the report says more than 800,000 requests for information from telcos were made. Plenty of those were anodyne, but over 600,000 were made under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access Act) 1979, as follows:

Request category 13/14 14/15
Authorisations for access to existing information or documents — enforcement of the criminal law 563,012 584,029
Authorisations for access to existing information or documents — enforcement of a law imposing pecuniary penalty or protection of the public revenue 9,162 7,206
Authorisations for access to prospective information or documents 7,346 8,784
Total 579,520 600,019

A few things to note, dear readers. For starters, the figure for disclosures doesn't mean the numbers above represent the number of requests from authorities. It's entirely possible that multiple disclosures resulted from one access request.

Second, don't feel too smug about point one, because Police can apply for access to telco records for any crime. There's no way of knowing if the 584,029 disclosures represent efforts to bust really bad guys, or routine use of telco record requests in lesser matters.

Lastly, the disclosures were made before Australia enforced collection of communications metadata, a measure we're told is necessary because authorities need more access to information about who we talked to, and when. Which likely means future ACMA reports will record more – many more – disclosures of data about how you communicate. ®

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