Aussie telco metadata requests again on the rise

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Aussie telco metadata requests again on the rise

First 2017-18 numbers revealed by three agencies.

Law enforcement and other agencies are making more requests to access the telco metadata of Australians captured under mandatory data retention laws.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the Independent broad-based anti-corruption commission (IBAC), and the NSW Crime Commission today revealed numbers for the 2017-18 financial year.

Telecommunications metadata requests are reported annually by the Department of Home Affairs.

However, the annual report is often late and in past years has been released with little fanfare, and the last one published was for 2016-17.

Submissions to a Senate inquiry reveal the first numbers for 2017-18.

The NSW Crime Commission said [pdf] in 2017-18, 2893 authorisations were made for historical metadata and 1149 for prospective metadata.

In the previous year, the numbers were 2322 (historic) and 796 (prospective). That is a 25 percent increase in authorisations for historic metadata and a 44 percent increase for prospective metadata year-on-year.

Corporate watchdog ASIC said [pdf] it had 1898 authorisations for metadata access in 2017-18, up from 1701 the previous year - an 11 percent rise.

IBAC, meanwhile, reported [pdf] a sharp rise in metadata usage. Its authorisations for historic metadata rose from 277 in 2016-17 to 701 in 2017-18, representing a 153 percent year-on-year increase.

It also saw authorisations for prospective metadata access rise from 139 to 287, a 106 percent rise.

IBAC’s increases were fuelled by investigations into “bribery or corruption” as well as “offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations”.

Compliance costs - that is, costs incurred by telcos to meet the requests, fell to $35 million, down from $119m the previous year, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

More costs were recovered from law enforcement agencies than in prior years - totalling $12.5 million, a 27 percent increase.

On that note, several agencies complained of cost inconsistencies when requesting the same metadata from different telcos.

“It has been ASIC’s experience that it is often difficult to understand and reconcile the significant discrepancies between some service providers for access to comparable datasets,” the financial regulator said.

“IBAC has observed that costs vary between service providers and fees are applied inconsistently,” it said in its own submission.

ASIC indicated a forthcoming Home Affairs submission to the inquiry would call for a review of the way metadata access charges are determined.

Some law enforcement agencies that have provided submissions did not update their numbers on metadata access.

WA Police, for example, uses its submission to press for rules that would ensure metadata is collected from future 5G cellular services.

“The advancement of technology (such as 5G) may result in metadata not being covered under the retention scheme,” it said.

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