Home Technology Regulation Unchartered waters with government ‘radical’ expansion of data retention scheme, says IA

Unchartered waters with government ‘radical’ expansion of data retention scheme, says IA

Internet Australia, the peak body representing Internet users, has criticised a move by the Federal Government to call for submissions over the Christmas period for what it describes as a “radical expansion of its controversial data retention scheme”.

Internet Australia chief executive Laurie Patton says that, under the new proposal, what was initially designed for criminal investigations could be used in civil cases.

According to Patton, IA is concerned about the privacy implications of such a move.

“This takes us into uncharted waters when it comes to using communications technology and personal data in court cases involving private individuals and which have nothing necessarily to do with criminality,” he says.

Patton reiterates IA’s previous comments describing the data retention legislation as “fundamentally flawed” and called on the government to hold an urgent review.

“We’ve asked them to look at the mess we’re in now, not make the problem worse.

“The data retention law was passed nearly two years ago on the grounds of an urgent need to combat terrorism and it hasn’t even come into effect and yet the attorney-general’s department apparently wants to see it extended to include civil litigation.”

ISPs are required to have systems in place by April 2017 to retain their customers’ metadata for a two-year period.

But, IA points out that only a minority of ISPs will be compliant and Patton says this makes the whole scheme of “dubious benefit for its stated purpose of combating terrorism”.

“The attorney-general’s department received applications from 210 ISPs seeking funding to help them meet the costs of compliance, of which 180 were approved. However, industry estimates of the total number of Australian ISPs ranges from 250 to more than 400.

“So there are potentially hundreds of ISPs not known to the attorney-general’s department, and not all of them will necessarily be collecting and storing the metadata they are required to keep. We really don’t know how many. It’s extraordinary that the government didn’t ask the obvious question right upfront: how many ISP’s are we talking about?”

As Patton also reiterates, IA has previously warned that the costs of the data retention scheme will inevitably be passed onto consumers and he says PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated the cost of compliance to the industry at $738 million over the first 10 years.

“IA believes that this underestimates the likely total given that the figure was based on an incomplete list of ISPs.

“Adding civil litigation to the uses of the scheme can only increase the costs borne by ISPs in complying”.

“The government funding is already nowhere near enough. ISP’s are out of pocket and they’re unhappy. This exercise has been a disaster from the start and by the looks of it things are only going to become more controversial.”


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).