Privacy Commissioner slams data retention

Summary:The Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has slammed the Federal Government's proposed data retention law and called for an inquiry to ensure data is not mishandled if the plan goes ahead.

The Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has slammed the Federal Government's proposed data retention law and called for an inquiry to ensure data is not mishandled if the plan goes ahead.

Magnifying glass

(Looking for clues image by Casey Fleser, CC2.0)

Such a regime would require companies providing internet access to log and retain customer's private web browsing history for law enforcement to access when needed.

Speaking in Senate Estimates today, Pilgrim said he does not support the plan.

"The Privacy Commissioner does not support the collection of information on the chance that it would be useful later," Pilgrim said. "If you have data sitting around for a long time there is great risk that something could happen to it.

"We need to understand what is the exact problem being responded to [that] response is proportionate to the risk."

Pilgrim said the office has entered preliminary discussions on data retention with the Federal Attorney's-General Department and called for a "privacy assessment" should the proposal become legislation.

He said the scheme must be carefully assessed and exemptions should be minimised.

"What will be the accountability mechanisms … are there mechanisms to ensure it will be held securely and not beyond the expectation of the user?"

Pilgrim's comments are parting shots and the last comments he will make in estimates before his office is moved under the wing of the Australian Information Commissioner. His office will sit alongside the yet to be appointed Freedom of Information Commissioner.

Representatives from internet giant Google were also grilled as to whether the company had been briefed on the government's data retention policy.

"Has Google been consulted in the development of the Australian Government's data retention policy?" Greens Senator Scott Ludlam asked, noting the policy would be a recurring theme of the day.

"We haven't been involved in those discussions but obviously we've seen media reports and we are aware those discussions are going on," Iarla Flynn, Google's public policy and government affairs spokesperson said, adding that any plan would need to balance privacy and law enforcement requirements.

"Our view is that any requirement to retain data to enable the investigation, detection and prosecution of serious crimes has to be proportionate to the resultant privacy impact and anonymity loss for internet users as well as the cost to internet providers to implement that," he said.

Ludlam, Labor Senator Doug Cameron and Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher also questioned the representatives about how it collects data on individuals and the transparency of measures it offers for users to erase information it holds on them. Using the example of a Gmail account, Google public policy and government affairs spokesperson Istar Vij used the example of deleting an email from a Gmail account.

"Once it's deleted and gone from our backup servers, it's gone," she said.

"From the entire techostratasphere?" Fisher asked.

"If I stored data with my Gmail account and I deleted it, it will be gone," Vij replied.

Fisher also asked the company if it performs the common task of collecting cookies to track web user histories.

(Front page image credit: spore safe in the bolt image by Nate Bolt, CC BY-SA)

Topics: Google, Government, Government : AU, Security


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.


Darren Pauli has been writing about technology for almost five years, he covers a gamut of news with a special focus on security, keeping readers informed about the world of cyber criminals and the safety measures needed to thwart them.

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