by Bridle Jabour, Guardian
July 14, 2013 (TSR) – Telstra agreed to store information on communications between America and other countries in a contract with the US government which meant it could potentially spy on the contents.
The agreement was signed in 2001 between the telecommunications company – which was at the time half-owned by the Australian government – and its subsidiary Reach, as well as the FBI and the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
The agreement, first reported by Crikey who obtained the documents, gave the US government permission to store “domestic communications” – with the possibility of using them for spying – using the underwater cables owned by Reach.
Domestic communications were defined in the agreement as communications within the US but could also extend to communications which “originate or terminate” in America, meaning Australian communications with America could have potentially been subject to the agreement.
Telstra also agreed to report to the US government every three months on whether any foreign non-government entities had asked for access to their communications, and complete a compliance report every year which could not be accessed using freedom of information laws.
“Domestic communications companies shall designate points of contact within the United States with the authority and responsibility for accepting and overseeing the carrying out of lawful US process to conduct electronic surveillance of or relating to domestic communications carried by or through domestic communications infrastructure; or relating to customers or subscribers of domestic communications companies,” the agreement says.
The points of contact were to be American citizens and the agreement also stopped Telstra and Reach, which is based in Hong Kong, from complying with any country’s laws that certain data should be destroyed.
“Reach, Tesltra and PCCW agree that the United States would suffer irreparable injury if for any reason a domestic communications company failed to perform any of its significant responsibilities under this agreement and that monetary relief would not be an adequate remedy,” the agreement said.
“The FBI and the DOJ shall be entitled, in addition to any other remedy available at law or equity, to specific performance and injunctive or other equitable relief.”
The agreement meant all communications within America using the cables was stored in a facility on US soil which was staffed solely by Americans who passed security clearances.
A spokesperson for Telstra said the agreement was complying with American law.
“This agreement, at that time 12 years ago, reflected Reach’s operating obligations in the US that require carriers to comply with US domestic law,” he said.
The revelations are the latest in a series about government spying which began with the Guardian reporting a secret agreement between various companies and the US National Security Agency.
Earlier this week the Washington Post reported on the existence of agreements with the US and telecommunications companies which gave the government access to cables for spying.
Many of the agreements have since been published on the website Public Intelligence.