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New metadata laws come into force, but we’re not ready

13 October, 2015
By Allison Orr

Australia’s new data retention laws have come into force today, but the majority of ISPs are not ready to enact the legislation.

The legislation was passed in March, with support of both major parties, and forces telecommunications providers to keep records of phone and Internet use for two years, and allow security agencies to access the records.

However, it appears that enacting the legislation is perhaps prohibitively complicated.  It has been reported that 84% of Internet service providers (ISPs) in Australia have not met the deadline set by the government to start collecting data.  61% are asking for some exemption or variation to the specifics in the legislation.

Some of the difficulty appears to come from a lack of clarity about precisely what metadata is supposed to be collected.  According to Philip Branch at The Conversation, the authors of the legislation didn,t want to be to specific about what would be collected, as it could be out of date very quickly.  So the legislation says the ISP has to keep information about the source and destination of “a communication”. 

Sorting out what should be retained is proving very difficult to some ISPs.

Ironically, it was our now-PM Malcolm Turnbull who argued against the laws in 2013, saying he had “very grave misgivings” about the then Gillard government’s proposal for government to keep citizens’ metadata.  He also argued that it would be of little value, as cyber criminals and tech–savvy terrorists would get around it.

Laurie Patton, CEO of Internet Australia, has described the legislation as “fundamentally flawed” and said that international experience has found that data retention is of limited value in the fight against terrorism, and has in many cases been overturned as unconstitutional.  When Germany introduced mandatory data retention there was a 0.006 per cent increase in crime clearance rates.

Moreover, ISPs have said that it will be expensive to implement, estimating up to $60 million to set up data warehouses to store this data for the required two years.  Some argue that it could put smaller ISPs out of business.  The government has committed to paying for some of the set-up costs, but ultimately it will be charged back to consumers.

Previously published in undefined.

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