Senate extends telecommunications interception inquiry

TIA inquiry report held off until senators can scrutinise data retention legislation

The Senate has voted to extend the reporting deadline of the inquiry into reform of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. The inquiry, chaired by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, had been due to table its final report last night.

The decision to hold off on handing down a final report was due to the government's impending introduction of a mandatory data retention regime, Ludlam and Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald told the Senate last night.

"The committee thought that it was probably a good idea not to table its final report until we actually saw where the government was going and what it intended to do," Macdonald said.

"In Australia we have a very serious problem, because the TIA Act annual report states — and there have been massive increases year on year — that in the last financial year for which there is data there were nearly 320,000 warrantless requests for metadata, not just by ASIO, the AFP, the Crime Commission and those who do such valuable work but by literally dozens of other agencies," Ludlam said.

The inquiry into revising the TIA Act was launched in December and is now due to report by 29 October.

"When you ask for a list of how many agencies can access this material on a warrantless basis, no-one can tell you, because no-one even knows how many agencies can get it," Ludlam said.

"If we were designing the TIA Act now or if these categories of metadata had existed in 1979 — categories that allow you to track a mobile phone handset around the landscape; precisely map people's social networks, everyone you have been in contact with and your financial transactions; and build these incredibly invasive pictures of social networks and people's lives—of course that would have been included in the warranted regime.

"That is the balance that now is before Australia and that we need to try to strike."

Telco industry representatives expressed concern over the cost of a mandatory data retention scheme when they appeared before the TIA Act inquiry's most recent public hearing in late July, before the scope of the government's proposed data retention regime became at somewhat clearer.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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