Insists legislation contained "strengthened safeguards": Senator George Brandis. Photo: Andrew Meares
A detailed analysis by Fairfax Media has found the great majority of people empowered to approve requests for so-called communications metadata are police officers.
Such data can be accessed from telco firms without a warrant, however the application has to be approved by a senior officer or official.
NSW Police leads the way with more than 900 senior officers able to sign off on junior colleagues' requests to get data. Victoria Police have more than 400 officers who meet the threshold of seniority to approve the requests and Queensland Police more than 300.
The Australian Federal Police have 190 sworn officers who can authorise requests, though a spokesman said fewer than 55 did so in the regular course of their jobs.
Under the controversial new laws that received final ratification by the Senate on Thursday night, phone and internet companies will be forced to keep customers' data – such as the origin, destination and time of phone calls, text messages and emails – for at least two years.
It does not include the content of communications, access to which requires a warrant.
Police and other agencies say metadata is a vital tool in most investigations. But they say their powers are gradually eroding in the digital age as telco firms, which increasingly charge customers on flat rates or by the amount of data they use, wipe records of individual communications after as little as a few days.
The 22 agencies who will be able to access metadata under the new laws is actually fewer than the roughly 80 who can do so currently. As a trade-off under the new laws, Attorney-General George Brandis limited the number of agencies to crucial crime-fighting and national security bodies, removing groups like the RSPCA and local councils.
But privacy advocates say the stakes are higher under the new laws because compulsory retention will create an ever-growing pool of data that is open to misuse.
George Williams, a law professor at the University of NSW, described the 2500 officials as "a remarkably high figure".
"This affirms the need for more than a self-serve model of access to metadata," he said. "The absence of external checks is very concerning … Limiting metadata approval to more senior people within these organisations would be a start, but I do not think that would be sufficient. It is well accepted in other comparable areas that external checks and oversight is required in regard to the decision to access sensitive, private material."
Senator Brandis said after the legislation passed that it contained "strengthened safeguards" including new oversight powers for the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
Fairfax Media contacted all of the 23 agencies that are listed in the legislation as being able to access metadata under the new laws. Most supplied information on how many of their staff could approve requests.
Most state police forces authorise officers at the rank of Inspector and above to approve requests.
In addition to police forces, the Australian Taxation Office has 276 senior staff who can approve requests, the Australian Crime Commission has 21 staff, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has three staff and the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has eight staff.
The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service refused to say how many of its staff approved access to people's metadata, but its latest annual report shows it has 65 staff at Senior Executive Service level – typically the level required to authorise requests.
A range of integrity and anti-corruption agencies can also access metadata, generally with fewer than 10 staff empowered to approve access.
On the request of a Parliamentary inquiry into the new laws, Senator Brandis amended the government's legislation to state that officials approving access requests must "be satisfied" that the invasion of privacy is justifiable and proportionate.
theage.com.au 29 March 2015
Another example that one is living in the Police State of Australia.
'Criminals' will still continue to operate, and drug cartels will continue to flourish, as the 'authorities' are laced with bribery money.
The Attorney General, George Brandis, another criminal up for alleged treason.
Another farcical law.