Abbott brings on mandatory data retention in Australia

Attorney-General George Brandis has confirmed he is developing legislation that would require telecommunications companies to retain customer data.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed that the Federal Cabinet today gave in principle support for a new regime that would force telecommunications companies to retain an as-yet-undetermined amount of customer data for up to two years to allow government agencies to access without a warrant as part of law enforcement investigations.

Image: Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet

Brandis, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, this afternoon said that two new tranches of expanded anti-terrorism laws will be introduced, and intelligence agencies will be given an additional AU$630 million from the budget to "boost counterterrorism capabilities".

The second tranche that will expand the anti-terrorism powers — including broadening the definition of terrorism to include supporting or promoting terrorism — will be introduced in the first week of the Spring sitting of Parliament, while Brandis said he had been given "in principle" approval by the Federal Cabinet to begin developing a mandatory data retention proposal that would be put to the parliament later this year.

"I've also been asked to develop, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, a system of mandatory data retention," Brandis said.

The type of data the government would like telcos to retain for agencies to access without a warrant has not yet been revealed, but Abbott said there would be safeguards to protect privacy.

It is unclear at this point who will bear the cost for ISPs to develop systems to retain the data, whether it be the ISPs and their customers, or the government and taxpayers.

iiNet has estimated that the cost of developing such a system would cost the company AU$100 million in the first two years. Brandis said that the cost would be determined through negotiations with industry.

"The question of the cost is something that the government is currently in discussion with the telcos concerning," he said.

Abbott said that the legislation for mandatory data retention would get scrutiny through the parliamentary process.

"I am confident that while the Labor Party has traditionally offered bipartisan support in the security area, we will need to get them on side," he said.

Brandis said that the approach to the raft of new national security legislation was done with a view to protect freedom, and said that he approached the changes with "a very strong prejudice against expanding powers of the state, and against winding back traditional rights and freedoms."

Plans for the data retention proposal were leaked to the media this morning before Cabinet had a chance to approve the scheme. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was noticably absent from the press conference this afternoon, warned against implementing such a regime when it was flagged by the former Labor government in 2012.

"This data retention proposal is only the latest effort by the Gillard Government to restrain freedom of speech," he said at the time.

"I must record my very grave misgivings about the proposal. It seems to be heading in precisely the wrong direction.

"Surely as we reflect on the consequences of the digital shift from a default of forgetting to one of perpetual memory we should be seeking to restore as far as possible the individual's right not simply to their privacy but to having the right to delete that which they have created in the same way as can be done in the analogue world."

Editorial standards