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Telstra to let customers access their own metadata for AU$25

Do unto customers as you do unto law enforcement agencies is Telstra's new creed

By Simon Sharwood, 6 Mar 2015

Australia's dominant carrier, Telstra, will give its customers the chance to access their metadata, for a fee.

The new policy, explained in a post from chief risk officer Kate Hughes, is based on the principle that “offering the same access to a customer’s own metadata as we are required to offer to law enforcement agencies.”

“This new approach is all about giving you a clearer picture of the data we provide in response to lawful requests today,” Hughes adds. “As new technologies evolve and data management practices change (including potentially through the introduction of a data retention regime), we see this principle as continuing to apply.”

The carrier says that from April 1st it will offer a form on its Privacy Portal, from which customers can request metadata access under the following arrangements:

Requests for data beyond what is available on MyAccount will be subject to a cost recovery fee when a request is actioned. This fee will depend on how far back into Telstra records you request. Simple requests are expected to cost around $25, while detailed requests covering multiple services across several years will be charged at an hourly rate. This is the same practice of cost recovery that is applied to requests from law enforcement agencies. The data provided will be limited to information associated with your account. Information about another party will not be provided, such as who called you.

The new policy is notable for two reasons.

Firstly, it suggests Telstra is well advanced in its efforts to record metadata.

The second is Hughes' choice of the term “data retention” rather than metadata retention. Might that be a cheeky admission that Australia's plan to record only “the outside of the envelope” as applied to digital communications really does reveal data, not just descriptions of communications?

One other thing to note: Australia's Privacy Act requires organisations to take steps to record the type of personal information that they hold and to give individuals access to that information. Telstra's moves are being framed in the context of the metadata debate, but this could be a compliance move rather than a bold entry to the metadata retention debate. ®

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