SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police accidentally allowed private metadata connected to a criminal investigation to be posted online, a lawmaker said on Thursday, a potentially embarrassing gaffe as the conservative government seeks broader data retention powers.
Australia has raised the alarm about the number of its citizens believed to be fighting with insurgents in Syria and Iraq, and requested new security and surveillance powers to prevent them committing terrorist acts upon returning.
But a proposal made earlier this month by Attorney General George Brandis requiring telecom firms to retain more information about users’ Internet habits has run into opposition over concerns about how the data could be used or stored.
Greens Party Senator Scott Ludlam has now again called into question the ability to handle such responsibilities, revealing that the Australian Federal Police had failed to correctly redact documents before providing him with them in 2012.
Those documents, which contained metadata including the addresses, names and phone numbers of both police officers and the targets of criminal investigations, were subsequently placed onto the senator’s website, a spokeswoman told Reuters.
They were removed when it was revealed that the documents had been improperly redacted, she said.
“This is the very agency that is requesting warrantless access to every Australian citizen’s metadata,” Ludlam said in a statement.
Last month Brandis announced sweeping national security reforms that would make it easier to track Australian citizens believed to have fought overseas both while they were abroad and after they returned home.
The reforms were needed to update legislation written in the 1970s, he said, and were in the same spirit as emergency legislation passed earlier this year in Britain forcing telecoms firms to retain customer data.
But this is not the first time conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government has inadvertently published online potentially damaging information.
In February, the department of immigration published the identities of almost 10,000 asylum seekers, raising concerns it could help locate people fleeing persecution and thus place them in greater danger.
Reporting by Matt Siegel