Telstra agreed to retain data for US authorities

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Telstra signed an agreement in 2001 to retain communications data carried across its cable linking Asia to the US for US authorities, a document leaked to several media outlets, including ZDNet, has revealed.

(Credit: Telstra)

The document is an agreement signed by Telstra, Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW), their joint international cable company Reach, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Department of Justice.

The agreement required Telstra to retain data in a US storage facility that is configured for access by US authorities for the purpose of electronic surveillance.

The company was required to retain telecommunications metadata, such as the time of the call, the length of the call and all associated billing information, for two years. In addition, Telstra must be able to provide to the US communications of its customers that are made within the US. Under the contract, Telstra must also be able to begin preserving the communications of specific customers when asked by the US authorities.

The leak of the previously classified document occurred as the US continues to come under criticism from its own citizens and nations across the world over the revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has claimed to be able to collect, in real time, user data from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple, and PalTalk.

On the revelation that Telstra has also been providing data to US authorities, a spokesperson for Telstra said it was just to ensure compliance with US law.

"This agreement, at that time 12 years ago, reflected Reach's operating obligations in the US that require carriers to comply with US domestic law," the spokesperson said.

ZDNet received the Telstra document earlier this week; however, we were waiting for further detail on the impact that the agreement has had on Australian customers, and information on whether Telstra is still retaining the data at the behest of the US law enforcement agencies. The company has thus far not provided any more detail other than the above statement.

The Greens have called on Telstra to provide a full disclosure on the details of the deal.

"Telstra, at the time majority owned and controlled by the Howard government, struck a deal to allow 24/7 surveillance of calls going in and out of the United States, including calls made by Australians. The cables in question are operated by Telstra subsidiary Reach, which controls more than 40 major telecommunications cables in the region, including cables in and out of China and Australia," Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said.

"While the current Australian government recently pushed then abandoned a two-year mandatory data retention scheme, for more than a decade, this secret deal with the United States compelled Telstra, Reach, and PCCW to store all customer billing data for two years."

Ludlam said that the agreement was an "extraordinary breach of trust, invasion of privacy, and erosion of Australia's sovereignty".


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Will1505 posted a comment   

I find it amusing that people have a go at telstra however are signed on using facebook, as well as your email accounts that you use. If you have nothing to hide, what does it matter? "ohhh know the US government knows i made a 45 second phone call to my girlfriend on the 29th of may 2012"


gregory.opera posted a reply   

Well, some of the highest-ranking staff at Facebook used to be employed by the CIA and still associate with Agency staff... So you draw your own conclusions.

As for the "If you've got nothing to hide" argument, that's no different to saying the police have every right to knock on your front door at any time of the night, simply because one "does not have anything to hide"...


Will1505 posted a reply   

I see you point but you have to admit, there is a difference between physical invasion of privacy and electornic/communication invasion of privacy


CampbellS posted a comment   

Disgusting that Telstra and the Howard Government would pander to US interests and sell out its own citizens. Telstra needs to immediately desist NOW. The US Government has NO authority of Telstra or Australia.


gregory.opera posted a reply   

Actually, they do... Well at least according to Telstra.

Supposedly there is a legal requirement that telecommunications into and out of North America be available for monitoring, storage and so forth... If true, this would mean that Telstra is simply meeting their legal obligations.

In theory, this would apply to all telecommunications providers.

Personally i remain skeptical that such a law exists and I would love for someone to prove me wrong, but until then, I'm giving Telstra the benefit-of-the-doubt...


AllanC1 posted a comment   

I wish i hadn't signed a new contract now.


gregory.opera posted a reply   

Are you serious?

You do realize that the US Government is not the only government that spies on its citizens, right?

Take a look around - not only are there the countless conspiracy theories (ECHELON, PRISM which alledgedly has connections to the Australian Government, and so forth) - but the things that the Australian Government HAVE been caught doing or come out in the open and said they're doing have given us a reputation of being a "police state" country.

The most obvious difference is that we do not have a Bill of Rights - which means (in layman's terms) that the Government can effectively force PRISM-style laws and there is nothing we can do to stop them... The US Government also has a long, LONG history of spying, coverups and information collecting - yes all governments are guilty of this, but for all of Modern History, the US Government has been particularly passionate (obsessive?) about these tasks, which are usually conducted "cloak-and-dagger" style (partially due to the the Bill of Rights).

If you're not happy that Telstra do this, get rid of your mobile, DEFINATELY get rid of the computer you typed your message on, get rid of your television, your library card and countless other items... Then wrap your head in aluminum foil, because modern technology not only makes it easier for the Government to monitor every aspect of your life, but also easier for them to cover their tracks.

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