AUSTRAC invites the big banks into its office, networks

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AUSTRAC invites the big banks into its office, networks

Fintel Alliance goes live.

Australia’s financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC has invited the big banks and other regulated financial firms like PayPal and Western Union to house staff within its own Sydney and Melbourne headquarters in the name of collaboration.

Today AUSTRAC and Justice Minister Michael Keenan officially launched the Fintel Alliance, a sharing regime that will see intelligence analysts from the finance sector and government agencies move into the AUSTRAC offices and work side by side to stamp out money laundering and terrorist financing.

“When I took up this role one of the key things the minister communicated to me was a desire to change the adversarial nature of the relationship between AUSTRAC and industry,” AUSTRAC CEO Paul Jevtovic said at the official opening today in Sydney.

AUSTRAC CIO Maria Milosavljevic said many people have described the agency as being “really just one big data warehouse”.

Co-locating industry staff within the AUSTRAC offices, on its own computers and networks, means Milosavljevic and her colleagues are able to offer them access to much more of the agency's intelligence data than ever before.

So far about 15 non-AUSTRAC personnel are working from the agency's Chatswood HQ in Sydney, with more to come on board as the scheme gathers pace.

They will pick out dodgy dealing using data troves like the Panama Papers and feeds of reported cyber crime attempts lodged through the ACORN portal.

However, even those who aren’t part of the Fintel Alliance will start finding it easier to exchange intelligence with the regulator thanks to a number of big changes Milosavljevic has made in the two years she’s been heading technology at AUSTRAC.

She has replaced some of the computing infrastructure and “data foundations” at AUSTRAC with a new data lake built partially with open source technology.

“To do a data extraction for a partner used to take up to a week and it was error prone,” she told iTnews.

“It now takes three hours. And that data can be entirely monitored and audited. It [also] used to take at least three days to extract data from partners. It now takes 47 minutes. It used to be impossible to search across all our data holdings and now this is not only possible but it takes less than a second.”

Milosavljevic is also putting together a series of APIs to underpin data exchange along a spectrum of permissions and partners.

“We can enable anything from ‘you can only access what is available publicly through open data’ all the way up to ‘you can access anything’, which is reserved for partners like the ATO. The banks are somewhere in the middle,” she said.

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