The Federal Government has indicated it is willing to consider handing submarine fibre operators access to data collected by ships passing in the vicinity of cable infrastructure.
Telstra said in a February Senate submission that data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) fitted to large vessels, and the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) on fishing trawlers, should be made available to subsea cable operators.
The telco saw the data as valuable in monitoring how ships comply with rules in designated cable protection zones in Australian waters.
"Access to the AIS and/or VMS information by cable operators would improve the security of the telecommunications infrastructure by providing cable operators with real time information which can be used to assess and proactively manage any potential risks of damage to their submarine cables," Telstra said. (pdf)
"It will also assist operators to more quickly identify the possible cause and location of any damage and take appropriate remedial action."
The Department of Communications said in a letter to the Senate committee that the issue is "receiving ongoing consideration". (pdf)
The department noted that it and the Attorney-General's department "are continuing to work together to monitor the issue of active compliance monitoring, including the expanded use of AIS and VMS, through the Communications Sector Group of the Trusted Information Sharing Network for Critical Infrastructure Resilience".
Telstra used the same submission to call for restrictions on legal defences that maritime operators could fall back on if they damaged a submarine cable.
Presently, a ship or trawler can raise a defence that they took "all reasonable steps to avoid engaging in the conduct".
Telstra wanted this stripped from Schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act. However, the Department of Communications argued it should remain.
It also appears Telstra is unlikely to overturn another clause of 3A which indemnifies a ship owner for the loss of an anchor, net or other fishing gear that is "sacrificed in order to avoid damaging a submarine cable in a protection zone".
Telstra had wanted a new clause to the effect that the indemnification not apply if the ship owner had to jettison gear due to its own negligence or recklessness.
However, the Department of Communications said the indemnification is from international maritime laws, to which Australia is a signatory, and therefore unlikely to be altered.