Monday, 23 January 2017 10:01

Labor not ruling out support for metadata changes Featured


The Australian Labor Party has refused to rule out giving its backing to a move by the government to allow the use of telecommunications metadata in civil cases.

In an interview on Radio National, shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said he was very concerned about the government's decision to call for comment on the use of metadata in some civil cases but went no further.

The metadata retention laws were passed in 2015, and require all telcos to retain customer metadata for two years. At that time, the government said such metadata would be used only in the most extreme criminal cases. The laws were passed at a time when there was heightened concern about terrorism, with the Islamic State being in the ascendancy in the Middle East.

However, the laws included a provision for an exception with the possible cases cited at the time being violence in family law proceedings or child abduction across borders.

In December 2016, Attorney-General George Brandis called for comment on when the use of metadata in civil cases should be allowed. Submissions will close on 27 January.

dreyfus big

Mark Dreyfus: noncommittal on changes to metadata laws.

Brandis' move came shortly after the Federal Court had ordered the blocking of several websites which were deemed to be aiding in the violation of copyright, in response to legal action led by Village Roadshow and Foxtel.

When the metadata laws were introduced into Parliament in 2014, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said they could be used to tackle the online copyright infringement.

"Illegal downloads, piracy, cyber crimes, cyber security, all these matters – our ability to investigate them is absolutely pinned to our ability to retrieve and use metadata," he told reporters.

When Dreyfus was asked straight out by RN's Hamish Mcdonald whether Labor was opposed to the use of metadata in civil cases, he waxed voluble over the history of how the metadata laws came into being but would only say that the party was very concerned about the review and was waiting to see what would eventuate.

Mcdonald repeated the question in a different form but was unable to extract a categorical statement from Dreyfus who argued that there might be situations where metadata might have to be used in civil cases.

The idea of metadata legislation was first raised in 2012 by then attorney-general Nicola Roxon during the government led by Julia Gillard. Labor backed the government in passing the laws in 2015.

Asked for comment, Internet Australia chief executive Laurie Patton said: "This is a complex and sensitive issue, which is why IA believes that it should be referred back to a parliamentary committee rather than left for the Attorney General's department to consider.

"As we have previously stated, the Data Retention Act is fundamentally flawed and is unlikely to achieve its stated purpose in its current form. Whether or not you agree with the concept of a data retention scheme it would seem odd to be thinking about expanding its use unless you have fixed up the existing problems first".

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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