No requirement to destroy collected metadata: ACLI

Summary:The government body charged with investigating police corruption in Australia revealed today that it was under no obligation to destroy telecommunications data once it has been obtained for investigative purposes.

Appearing before the Senate inquiry into telecommunications interceptions this week, The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLI) revealed that it was under no obligation to destroy collected metadata under the current legislation.

The comments were made by Sarah Baker Goldsmith, principle lawyer at ACLI, on the second day of public hearings in the Senate inquiry into telecommunications interceptions, headed by Greens senator, Scott Ludlam.

During today’s hearing, Ludlam asked ACLI representatives whether there was any requirement, under the current legislation outlined by the Telecommunications Act of 1979, for the ACLI to destroy metadata following its collection for investigative purposes.

"Senator, I don't believe so," said Goldsmith.

Goldsmith's response echoed similar comments made by representatives of the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) yesterday, during the first day of hearings .

The inquiry into the comprehensive revision of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has focused heavily on privacy concerns around the collection and retention of non-content telecommunications data known as metadata.

For Ludlam, the provisions in the existing legislation are outdated and do not provide for individuals' privacy in relation to data collection by telecommunications providers and its use by government law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Nick Sellars, the ACLI's manager for policy and research, agreed with the assertion yesterday by ACC representatives that a two-year mandatory retention of metadata by telecommunication providers would be necessary to effectively combat crime.

The ACC's acting chief executive, Paul Jevtovic, said at yesterday's hearing that carrying out its duties without data retention would be like "fighting organised crime not with one arm tied behind our backs, but with two."

"The way mobile phones and other forms of telecommunications are used now are very different to how they were used five years ago," Sellars told the panel today. "There have also been changes in the way that law enforcement views this type of work.

"Law enforcement agencies are now weighting towards intelligence-led investigations and skilling up in those areas. And, that explains one of the big changes that are driving forces behind this request [for mandatory data retention]."

Ludlam reiterated his concern that if government agencies were granted two-year mandatory data retention rights, it would eventually balloon into mandatory data retention in perpetuity.

Meanwhile, fellow panel member, Senator Zed Seselja, pointed out that the so-called "honey pot for hackers," in which mandatory data retention would result, would represent a major security issue for the country's telecommunications providers.

"That's a question for the telecommunications industry and about the security standards they apply," said Sellars. "There are advantages for us if data is obtained."

The hearings conclude tomorrow.

Topics: Security, Government : AU, Privacy

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Leon covers enterprise technology and start-ups from ZDNet's Sydney newsroom.

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