Australian Government

Australia Joins Mexico and UK in Requiring Telcos to Retain Private Data

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A confidential document belonging to the Australian Attorney General’s office that detailing the metadata it wants to collect on its citizens was leaked last week to The Australian. The metadata includes financial records, home IP addresses and download volume, and is part of a larger plan to force data retention on telcos.

It is the first time the government has addressed what type of data ISPs and telecommunications companies should store. According to a report by The Australian on Tuesday, telcos would need to store the data for a maximum of 2 years. However, the government insists that telcos will not be retaining any data that they don’t already store.

Due to the implications these laws have on companies doing business globally, service providers should not only stay informed of new data retention laws but also participate in organizations and processes to affect laws. For example, in the net neutrality debate in the US, companies and citizens were given 120 days to comment on the proposed legislation. There were 1.1 million comments to the Federal Communications Commission regarding net neutrality.

While the potential new laws were announced as part of governmental counter-terrorism measures, it is widely questioned whether these types of laws actually reduce crime or thwart terrorism. Germany’s Federal Crime Agency concluded in 2011 that data retention had no statistically relevant effect on crime. Data retention was abandoned in Germany in 2010 and crime continued to decline thereafter.

The proposed Australian laws come in the wake of the new Mexican data retention laws that went into effect earlier this month and the legislation that is still being discussed in the UK after emergency data retention laws went into effect in July. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says that the US has no formal data retention laws although the Department of Justice attempted to pass new laws in 2011.

The Australian Attorney General’s office had meetings with Telstra, Optus and iiNet to discuss what records would be retained under the new guidelines. “The paper, prepared for ‘preliminary discussions’, reveals the companies should retain records that would identify the names and addresses of individual internet and telephone ­account holders as well as information to trace and identify the source of a communication and the device used,” according to The Australian.

It appears the Australian government is attempting to broaden the scope of data retained.  “The paper suggests the scheme should be able to capture ‘any current or historical ­supplementary identification.’” According to The Australian it could also include “date of birth, financial, billing and payment information, other transactional information, or contact information.”

Australian citizens don’t need to worry that ISPs and telcos will track internet page visit history. The leaked paper said that tracking destination IP addresses and URLs would not be included in the scope of its new laws. However, it’s unclear at this time exactly which types of communication providers will be required to follow the new laws.

The current UK law applies to telcos. According to, the new Mexican standards apply to “private parties that ‘process’ personally identified or identifiable data, with exceptions for credit reporting agencies (which are already covered by separate legislation) and individuals recording data exclusively for personal use.”

It is also unclear who will bear the costs of storing and implementing IT systems that would be required to comply. The Australian says industry body Communications Alliance estimated initial costs to support the laws at about $700 million with an additional $100 million a year to maintain.

Previously, The Australian revealed that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull was not included in discussions to develop these new guidelines. There is disagreement amongst politicians on who should be included in the planning of these new, arguably invasive, new laws.

“We’ve got dysfunction in the cabinet processes of this government which is very worrying and disturbing,” Opposition Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen said. “And for the Communications Minister not to be included, and for him to read about it in the newspaper, an important decision in his own portfolio, I found extraordinary.” Turnbull was included in recent discussions with the telcos.

The Attorney General’s department did not respond to requests for comment by The Australian.

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