Australian politicians have another way of boasting that the nation is a world leader, although they probably won’t – it’s all about being a surveillance state.
This is according to a new report on data surveillance from VPN provider Surfshark government requests for user data of large technology companies by local law enforcement and other agencies are four times higher than the global average here, with Australia ranking ninth in the world per capita, behind the US, Germany, UK, France, Singapore, Ireland, Portugal and Belgium.
The analysis is based on transparency reports published by four major tech companies – Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft in 117 countries between 2013 and 2021. (Amazon was excluded due to a lack and/or inconsistency in reporting on user data disclosure) . User data requests include two metrics: the number of requests a company receives from authorities and the number of accounts specified in them.
In the nine-year period studied Meta and Google received the highest number of account requests from Australia.
The Surf shark report a total of 6.6 million account requests, inclusive 81,422 from Australia. Divide that number by the number of inhabitants, Australia ranks 9th globally, with 315.6 accounts requested per 100,000 people, just ahead of Taiwan.
The US and Europe (five countries) account for about 60% of all requests, with thThe US is looking for more than double the number of accounts per 100,000 people than all EU countries combined.
The number of bill applications has increased more than fivefold between 2013 and 2021, with a year-over-year increase of approximately 25% in 2021. Australia shows the same trend, with an increase of 164% between 2013 and 2021. Accounts applied for grew by 12% in 2021 compared to 2020.
Apple fulfilled most requests for user data at 82%, compared to Meta, Google, and Microsoft at 72%, 71%, and 68%, respectively. While compliance at Microsoft and Meta has steadily declined in recent years, disclosure rates at Apple and Google are at record highs.
Surfshark privacy attorney Gabriele Kaveckyte said that while the intent of law enforcement and others is generally to reduce crime, there are concerns about abuses to suppress political dissent.
“In addition to requesting data from technology companies, authorities are now exploring more ways to monitor and tackle crime through online services. For example, the EU is considering a regulation requiring internet providers to detect, report and remove abuse-related content.
“On the one hand, the introduction of such new measures could help solve serious criminal cases, but civil society organizations expressed concern about encouraging surveillance techniques that could later be used to track down political rivals, for example.”