The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has made no secret its after access to Australian's metadata in order to investigate tax evasion in the country. It comes after the tax agency was excluded from warrant-free access with the 2015 metadata retention laws.
The Australian Tax Office recently declared its intention to target crypto traders who are avoiding paying the proper amount of tax. This wasn't a problem two years ago when crypto wasn't recognised as a valid form of currency, but that changed towards the end of 2017. And this year the ATO is cracking down even harder.
The ATO is arguing its exclusion from the metadata retention laws, which grants law enforcement agencies with access to citizens' metadata without requiring a warrant, is making it tough to investigate tax fraud. Its hands are tied when it comes to investigating tax evasion, according to the ATO's acting assistant commissioner Michael Allsop, with some requiring metadata to either prove or disprove claims.
"[It's] crucial for timely investigation of frauds being committed against the tax and super systems," Allsop said in a September submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee onIntelligence and Security's metadata retention inquiry.
"The ATO has a demonstrated ongoing operational need for [telecommunications data] in order to effectively administer the taxation and superannuation system which are directly related to the protection of public revenue."
In order to catch tax evaders or fraudsters, the ATO argues, it requires metadata indicating where a person is and at what time in order to determine co-offenders as well as detect "trends, patterns and networks."
Through this workaround, it can access the necessary information via the Commissioner's approval but it comes with a cost. Internet service providers charge agencies, like the ATO, for requesting to access the information.
An ATO spokesperson told Gizmodo Australia "without access to telecommunications metadata, it is extremely difficult for the ATO to link the device to the offence, and consequently obtain a successful prosecution of the perpetrator/s.
"Telecommunications metadata can be used effectively by the ATO to filter and exclude innocent parties from investigations, saving substantial time and resources that could be more advantageously deployed elsewhere."
Australia's metadata retention laws came into effect in 2015 with the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015. The laws enabled criminal law-enforcement agencies like the Australian Federal Police, ICAC and ASIC to access the metadata of Australians without a warrant in the interest of national security. The major exception to this rule is the metadata of journalists, which requires a warrant.
Prior to the changes in 2015, the ATO could request access via the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 for tax evasion. When the Turnbull Government's metadata retention data laws infamously passed through the ATO lost its status as an enforcement agency when it was amended to limit it to criminal law-enforcement agencies, specifically.
There has been quite a lot discussion lately on how to avoid metadata retention, particularly in the context of leaking sensitive information to journalists. Notable examples have come from journalist Laura Tingle and, rather surprisingly, Malcolm Turnbull, who gave the impression that avoiding metadata collection was trivially easy.