ABOVE BOARD: Cr Andrew Antoniolli has defended council’s request to Telstra for individuals’ telecommunications records as “a last resort”.
ABOVE BOARD: Cr Andrew Antoniolli has defended council’s request to Telstra for individuals’ telecommunications records as “a last resort”. File

Are your phone records safe from Council?

IPSWICH City Council has admitted to accessing the telecommunication records of individuals without a warrant to successfully prosecute the illegal use of signage.

Council made six metadata requests to Telstra in 2012-13 to assist in the prosecution of four individuals for illegal signage under local laws

The council was listed in a recent 7.30 Report investigation on the ABC as being one of many organisations that has accessed metadata without a warrant.

While council's actions were legal under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, there is growing concern from the legal community, civil society organisations, industry and public administration bodies about the ease of such access and doubts over whether it is effective or proportionate.

Metadata is basically a person's telecommunications footprint. It can include the email address of both the sender and receiver of an email, the location of a person making and receiving a phone call, along with the time and length of such calls.

The ABC report highlighted how easy it is for organisations to access metadata off organisations such as Telstra. It is as simple as filling out a request form.

Telstra provided the data Ipswich City Council requested on four telephone numbers, and successful prosecution action followed with nine fines issued.

Council officers had rung the number on the signs, but when they identified themselves as council staff the call was either terminated or messages not returned.

The signs advertised products and services such as non-bank mortgages, private home purchases, printing services and a discount internet service based in Luxembourg.

Each of the offending signs was located on council land adjacent to busy roadways affecting amenity or visibility for road users.

Cr Andrew Antoniolli said the request for metadata was "a last resort".

"The problem with these interstate and international setups is that their only shopfront is their mobile," he said.

"When we try to follow up with them and they are reluctant to speak to us we have absolutely no identification details or evidence whatsoever.

"So in order for us to take successful enforcement action…we have to apply for that information through set protocols.

"In 99 % of these situations the people who are putting the illegal signs and trying to hide behind a mobile phone number are relatively shonky operators. They are praying on the gullibility and naivety of the public.

"To achieve a successful prosecution the court requires hard evidence.

"Metadata provides evidence to tender to the court."

But Australian Independents leader Patricia Petersen, who lives in Riverview, said council's actions were inappropriate, despite being legal under current legislation.

Ms Petersen said she would support accessing metadata without a warrant for public safety and terror related activities, but did not believe illegal sign usage justified council's actions.

"I fully appreciate ASIO and other organisations involved in preventing terrorism and violence providing a surveillance service to keep citizens safe, but Ipswich City Council is not a counter-terrorism organisation - its role is to provide parks, repair sidewalks, organise community events and so on," she said.

"The council already has processes in place if they are unhappy about signage to ensure residents and the community are protected.

"All they need to do is issue a warning. If the people don't follow through then they can fine them. If they don't pay the fine then they can go to court to get their money."

"They did not have to access personal information about these people.

"It is overkill and totally inappropriate."

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