Law enforcement and government agencies have again widened their access to vast quantities of Australians' private phone and internet data without judicial permission.
Telecommunications interception under warrant has also grown significantly, with figures released by the federal government revealing police spent more than $50 million on phone taps last year.
Federal and state government agencies accessed private telecommunications and internet data 330,640 times during criminal and financial investigations in 2012-13 - an 11 per cent increase in a year and a jump of 31 per cent over two years.
Federal and state agencies accessed telecommunications data an average 6358 times a week in 2012-13.
The figures, released by the Attorney-General's Department, also show there has been another big increase in the issuing of telecommunications interception warrants that allow police to listen to phone conversations and read emails.
A total of 4839 warrants were issued by federal judges and Administrative Appeals Tribunal members in 2012-13, a rise of nearly 16 per cent in two years.
Telecommunications data available to government agencies without warrant includes phone and internet subscriber and account information; outwards and inwards call details; the origin, destination and time of emails sent; and received phone and internet access location data. It does not include the actual content of the communications.
Data access is authorised by senior police or bureaucrats rather than judicial warrant.
NSW Police was the greatest user of telecommunications data, with 119,705 access authorisations in 2012-13, more than 37 per cent of the total and a 15 per cent increase over the previous year.
Victoria Police accessed data 64,458 times, a 4 per cent increase, while the Australian Federal Police accessed data 25,582 times, a jump of 11 per cent. Other federal government agencies using private telecommunications data include the Australian Crime Commission; Customs; the Australian Securities and Investments Commission; the Australian Tax Office; and departments such as Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Centrelink, previously a significant user of telecommunications data, did not access this information in 2012-13.
Data is also accessed by many state agencies and a small number of local councils, as well as the RSPCA, which has investigative powers on animal cruelty.
Data access by state agencies other than police amounted to less than 0.9 per cent of the national total.
The wide range of agencies able to legally access telecommunications data was criticised in the course of an inquiry by the Federal Parliament's joint committee on intelligence and security, which reviewed data access and retention earlier this year.
The Attorney-General's Department's statistics show more than 2000 of the 4839 telecommunications interception warrants issued in 2012-13 related to the investigation of serious drug offences, including trafficking.
NSW Police was the biggest user of telecommunications interception with 1570 warrants issued in 2013-13. Federal police obtained 540 warrants, while Victoria Police issued 232 warrants.
There were 116 warrants relating to police investigations of terrorism, with 76 warrants issued to the federal police, 39 to NSW police and one to Victorian police.
Federal and state law enforcement agencies spent more than $50 million on telecommunications interception in 2012-13. Of this, the AFP spent the most - more than $10 million.
Victorian police spent an average $27,377 on each warrant, compared with $3538 by their NSW counterparts and $16,712 by federal police.
The story Big brother widens tabs on Australians' telecommunications first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.