Attorney-General rejects metadata warrants

Australia’s Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has made the extraordinary declaration that Australian law enforcement in Australia would grind to a halt if police officers and other law enforcement agents were forced to apply for a warrant every time they wanted to access Australians’ telecommunications data.

Last week Budget Estimates hearing sessions conducted in Canberra heard that the Australian Federal Police had made 43,362 internal requests for so-called metadata (data pertaining to the numbers, email addresses time, length and date involved in phone calls or emails, but not the content) over the past financial year. No warrant is required for these requests.

The revelations, combined with historical data tracking law enforcement and other Federal Government agency use of metadata without warrants and the revelations over the past week thatthe US-based National Security Agency has gained backdoor access into the data servers of major technology companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft, has spurred calls by Australian political groups for a ban on warrant-less interception of Australian telecommunications data.

For example, the Australian Greens this week noted that it would next week introduce legislation to strengthen regulation of data collection on Australians, returning “normal warrant procedures” to law enforcement agencies accessing peoples’ private data.

This is the first step to winding back the kind of surveillance overreach revealed by the PRISM whistleblower, Greens communications spokesperson and Senator Scott Ludlam said in a statement. Law enforcement agencies – not including ASIO — made 293,501 requests for telecommunications data in 2011-12, without a warrant or any judicial oversight. Under the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act, that’s entirely legal.

Vast amounts of private data are being accessed — including the precise location of everyone who carries a smartphone — without any recourse to the courts.  A law enforcement agency simply fills out a very basic form. My bill will return to the system where they will need a warrant — via

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