Australia’s Intelligence chief wants data retention

Posted on March 7, 2014 11:04 pm

Australia’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Dr Vivienne Thom has warned that proposed laws to make telecommunications interception more targeted is bound to fail spectacularly and result in more collection and handover errors from ISPs and carriers. Vivienne Thom last month became the first inspector general to appear in a case about declassification of secret intelligence. She appeared before the administrative appeals tribunal on whether Australia’s relations with Indonesia would be harmed by the release of 120 pages of intelligence assessments relating to East Timor in the early 1980s.  In a rare public engagements, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Dr Vivienne Thom examining reform of the Telecommunications Interception Act to share her experiences overseeing Australia Security Intelligence Organization’s use of interception. In her submission, Dr Thom said that is not the role of the Inspector General of Intelligence Services to publicly comment on proposed government policies on matters regarding security but there are some issues on which she had particular experience because of her oversight of the activities of Australia Security Intelligence Organization.  Dr Thom submission was a response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that last specifically proposed that intelligence agencies should be able to specify exactly what data they demand from telecom operators and Internet Service Providers, in more detail than the broad-brush approach used to date.

The committee recommended the split of telecommunications data to ensure that intelligence agencies would not be collecting additional information they did not need, enhancing privacy protections for both targets and unintended targets. Dr Thom has raised concerns about how telecom operators might cope with sorting relevant bits of traffic from irrelevant bits to fulfill warrants for intelligence services. She also states that any significant change to the current regime could, at least initially result in more errors by carriers. In her argument, she would expect to see any regime include appropriate measures to ensure that the content of communication that are not the specific target of the warrant would not be retained longer than necessary to ensure that such information is kept secure, and to provide for appropriate levels of oversight for carriers. Dr Thom also raised concerns over how readily an intelligence agency such as Australia Security Intelligence Organization might be able to vary the attributes of telecom operators data listed in an approved warrant, arguing such powers would significantly alter the balance between decision by the Attorney General and that of the Director General of Security. Today, one of Australia’s leading telecom operator published their report (PDF) that covered requests received from government agencies although it did not include national security agencies under the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act. In the last six months of 2013, Telstra received 40,644 requests from government agencies for customer data, according to the transparency report. Telstra has revealed the volume and types of requests it receives from law enforcement agencies seeking to access the data of its customers.

Contador Harrison