TELSTRA GATHERS DATA FOR US – Saturday July 13 2013

– Telstra is storing huge volumes of electronic communications it carries between Asia and America for potential surveillance by United States intelligence agencies, more than a decade after signing a secret agreement with the FBI and the US Justice Department.
The company refuses to say whether it has similar data retention agreements with other nations’ intelligence agencies, including those in Australia.
Australia’s other major telco Optus, has declined to say whether it too stored data for potential surveillance by US, or Australian authorities.
Under the previously secret US agreement, Telstra has been routing all communications involving a US point of contact through a secure storage facility on US soil that is staffed exclusively by US citizens carrying a top-level security clearance.
This data includes the contents of emails, online messages and phone calls.
Under the November 2001 agreement, the Justice Department and the FBI also demanded that Telstra “provide technical or other assistance to facilitate…electronic surveillance”.
In 2001, when the “network security agreement” was signed, Telstra was 50.1% owned by the Commonwealth.
The “Saturday Age” has confirmed that as recently as March 2011, the agreement was still operational. Telstra has declined to answer questions about whether the contract has been significantly amended.
The revelations come as the British and US governments reel from the leaking of sensitive intelligence material that has detailed a vast electronic spying apparatus being used against foreign nationals and their own citizens.
The contract raised questions about the extent of the Australian government’s cooperation with the US global intelligence effort, as well as its own data collection regime.
Karl Reed, an adjunct associate professor of computer science at La Trobe University described the agreement as a “matter of serious concern”.
“An Australian corporate entity providing critical infrastructure is acquiescing to demands of a foreign country. What would Telstra have done if it was China asking?”
The Greens communications spokesman, Scott Ludlam, said the deed represented an “extraordinary breach of trust, invasion of privacy and erosion of Australia’s sovereignty”.
The 2001 contract was prompted by Telstra’s decision to expand into Asia by taking control of hundreds of kilometres of undersea telecommunications cables.
Telstra had negotiated with a Hong Kong company to launch Reach, which would become the largest carrier of international telecommunications in Asia. The venture’s assets included not just the fibre-optic cables, but also “landing points” and licenses around the world.
But when Reach sought a cable licence from the US Federal Communications Commission, the Justice Department and the FBI insisted that the binding agreement be signed by Reach, Telstra and its Hong Kong joint venture partner, Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW).
The contract does not authorise the company or law enforcement agencies to undertake actual surveillance. But Telstra must preserve and “have the ability to provide in the United States” all of the following:
– Wire or electronic communications involving any customers who make any form of communication with a point of contact in the US.
– “Transactional data” and “call associated data” relating to such communications.
– “Subscriber information” and billing records.
– All domestic communications…shall pass through a facility…physically located in the United States, from which electronic surveillance can be conducted pursuant to lawful US process, the contract says.
“The domestic communications company [Reach] will provide technical or other assistance to facilitate such electronic surveillance.”
The US facility had to be staffed by US citizens “eligible for appropriate US security clearances”.
The document was signed by Douglas Gration, a barrister who was then Telstra’s com pay secretary and official liaison for law enforcement and national security agencies.
He told the “Saturday Age” he could not remember much about the agreement. “Every country has a regime for that lawful interception,” he said.
Reach has offices in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Britain. It also has premises in New Jersey and San Francisco, which may house the secure storage facility stipulated by the contract.
In 2011, Telstra and PCCW restructured their partnership, giving Telstra control of most of Reach’s undersea cables.
Telstra formally notified the Justice Department and the FBI of the detail of the corporate restructure.
Scott Whiffin, a Telstra spokesman, said the agreement was required to comply with US domestic law. “When operating in any jurisdiction, here or overseas, carriers are legally required to provide various forms of assistance to government agencies,” he said.
Asked if Optus had any such arrangement, a spokesman, Joshua Drayton, would only say: “Optus handles all of its customer information strictly in accordance with its legal obligation under Australian law.” –


About Jumpin' Jack Cash
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