Repeat offender: Telco data access granted to NSW prisons anew

Telecommunications data access powers first granted to New South Wales’ prisons agency last year to combat crimes committed by inmates using smuggle mobile phones have been extended by the federal government.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus signed off on the temporary declaration last month, giving Corrective Services NSW another six months to access the telecommunication data to identity and investigate mobile phone-related crime.

The move was prompted by the expiry of the first temporary declaration made by the former Coalition government in February 2022, which lasted a full year due to fewer parliamentary sitting days.

At that time, the declaration – which continued for 40 sitting days of Parliament – was considered a stopgap measure, with the then-government also introducing legislation to give all state and territory corrective services agencies access to the data.

The reform was proposed in the 2020 review of the country’s national intelligence community, which recommended that corrective services agencies be “granted the power to access telecommunications data”, if deemed necessary by respective state and territory governments.

Telcos are required to hold their customer’s metadata for two years under the existing Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act to assist law enforcement agencies to investigate serious crimes

But the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Corrective Service Authorities) Bill 2022 lapsed when Parliament was prorogued ahead of the 2022 federal election, with the new government yet to introduce a similar bill.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General declined to comment on whether the government was considering laws similar to the Coalition’s lapsed bill when contacted by, suggesting the current ad hoc approach will continue.

“The Act currently provides for the Attorney-General to proscribe additional agencies if they satisfy the relevant statutory tests. Each temporary declaration is considered on its merits,’ the spokesperson said.

NSW’s renewed temporary declaration, which came into effect on April 1, designates Corrective Service NSW as an enforcement agency under the TIA Act, alongside those law enforcement agencies that permanently fall under the act.

“Illicit mobile telephones pose a particular threat within correctional facilities. They are used to organise escape attempts, threaten the safety of victims and witnesses, organise trafficking of contraband, and facilitate behaviour contrary to national security interests,” the expandatory memorandum accompanying the declaration states.

“Telecommunications data is particularly vital in establishing the ownership or location of mobile phones used to commit offences within correctional facilities and therefore would assist [Corrective Services NSW] in the performance of its functions.”

Data available to Corrective Services includes telecommunications metadata relating to a service, the source and destination of a communications, the location of equipment and the data, time and duration on a communication.

A spokesperson from the federal Attorney-General’s Department told that the declaration replaces a previous declaration made in February 2022 by the former government and which expired in February 2023.

“The declaration was made at the request of the NSW government and follows extensive preparatory work, including development of policies and procedures and review of Corrective Service NSW’s privacy settings, and consultation with the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner,” the spokesperson said.

In February, the government revealed planned changes to the Mandatory Data Retention Regime to prevent non-law enforcement agencies, including local councils, from accessing telecommunications data.

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