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Spies can access my metadata, so why can't I? My 15-month legal battle with Telstra

Stashed in: Privacy does not exist.

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But, after more than a year of phone calls and emails and a private mediation session, it still hasn't released the information or answered my one key question satisfactorily: the government can access my Telstra metadata, so why can't I?

My local council, the Australian Taxation Office, spy agency ASIO and Australian law enforcement authorities including federal and state police and even the RSPCA can trawl through my internet and phone metadata, seeing who I've spoken to – and who has spoken to me – for how long, where and on what date.

They can also potentially see which websites I've visited, who's emailed me, who I have emailed, and much more.

My geo-location at any time – sometimes down to the street or house – can also be exposed by metadata, thanks to mobile phone tower triangulation.

And importantly, access to this type of information by agencies is without judicial oversight and done more than 330,000 times each year. Considering this, you'd think I should be able to access it too, right? Apparently not, according to Telstra.

After former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of top-secret documents revealing the extent of spying by the US and other "Five Eyes" agencies, including ones in Australia, I decided it was time to see if I could access what they could on me from my telco.

So I asked Telstra to provide me with all of the metadata it had stored about my mobile phone account, informing them that they had a duty to do this under the Privacy Act's National Privacy Principles, which gives Australian citizens a right of access to their "personal information" from a company, and the right to have that information corrected if it is inaccurate, incomplete or out-of-date.

After about a month of back and forth phone calls chasing up a response, Telstra refused me access, saying I needed a subpoena to access the data. A subpoena is a writ usually issued by a court with authority to compel production of evidence under a penalty for failure.

As I didn't have the cash to sue Telstra and get a court to issue a writ, I complained to the federal privacy commissioner, claiming Telstra was in breach of the Privacy Act.

You need a subpoena to access your own data? Sheesh. 

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