Reach - the subsea cable joint venture between PCCW Global and Telstra - stored call logs and data transfer records for access by US authorities, under a deal dating back to 2001.
The joint venture signed an agreement with the US FBI and Justice Department agreeing to store billing records for two years. The news was first reported by news outlet Crikey, [subscription] which has uploaded a copy of the leaked agreement.
The agreement also guarantees that Reach will be able to provide US authorities with access to subscriber and billing information and identifying information relating to call logs and data transfers.
Reach appears to have needed to sign the agreement to comply with US laws, in order to be allowed to operate international cables landing in the US.
According to an analysis of the agreement by Delimiter Australia, the agreement stipulates that Reach store data in a way that it cannot be ordered deleted by foreign governments, and that shields it from disclosure under freedom of information laws.
This means that even though Telstra was owned by the Australian government at the time, the government would be unable to have the data destroyed under local data privacy laws, or seek access to the data without the US government becoming aware.
Because much of the stored data would relate to Australian communications, and the agreement could well be still in place, the revelations have sparked outrage among Australian civil rights advocates - particularly in light of the controversy surrounding the US PRISM surveillance program.