​Abbott dismisses data-retention cost complaints from telcos

The Australian prime minister and the Australian Federal Police have urged the quick passage of the mandatory data-retention Bill, explaining that it will not be a financial burden for telcos and will assist with criminal investigations.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues to defend the mandatory data-retention Bill, saying that in comparison to the net value worth of the telecommunications sector, the cost for telcos to retain data would not be a burden.

"Even if the costs are in the order of a couple of hundred million, you've got to remember that this is a AU$40 billion-plus sector, so the costs involved are comparatively modest, and obviously, we the government are prepared to work with the sector to ensure that we bear our fair share of the costs as well," he said on Thursday.

Under the draft legislation, Australian telecommunications companies will be required to retain and as-yet-undefined set of customer data for two years, which will include call records, address information, email addresses, and assigned IP addresses.

Telstra has previously said without disclosing any real figures that part of the cost the company will encounter will come from creating and storing data that it doesn't already use. The company indicated that it currently doesn't store assigned IP addresses on its mobile network, or missed call information.

Meanwhile, Optus reportedly estimated that the cost to set up a new system to hold and make available the data to law-enforcement agencies could be up to AU$200 million, but said it's "workable".

Abbott said he had been briefed by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on Thursday morning, and said the retention of metadata will be crucial to law-enforcement investigations.

"[There's] a range of criminal cases, a drug importation case, a child protection case, and a counter-terrorism case. Now, metadata was absolutely critical to the resolution of all these cases, and certainly in the case of the counter-terrorism case, there were at least two mass casualty terrorist events in planning that were prevented in large measure because of the access to the metadata," he said.

"This isn't just nice to have; this is something which is absolutely essential if we are to protect the Australian community."

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin agreed, highlighting that without the retention of metadata, which is the "basic foundation building block for investigations", the success of solving and preventing crimes on both a Commonwealth and state level would be "severely hampered".

Colvin also addressed concerns that the data-retention legislation will be an intrusion on individual privacy rights, saying it's nothing but a misconception, as law-enforcement agencies will not be given any new powers.

"There's a difference between what is possible and permissible as technology is increasing; metadata is quite broad. This legislation confines it to those specific pieces of information that are critical to law enforcement: The identification principles around communications," he said.

Abbott has urged Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to support the legislation, as Labor's vote will likely be required for the legislation to pass through the Senate.

Shorten indicated in a press conference on Thursday that Labor is supportive of national security legislation, but warned that the legislation should not be rushed.

"Labor has a fantastic record of working in the national interest on national security. When it comes to fighting the dreadful scourge of terrorism, we are all in this together. But we do no services or favours to the Australian people or their national security by rushing laws through the parliament," he said.

"What Australians expect of their parliamentarians is that on the one hand, we prioritise national security and the safety of Australia and balance it with ensuring in the process of making Australia safe, we still retain the individual liberties which make Australia such a fantastic place to live. Rush and haste will not help improve Australia's security."

The AFP's support for the mandatory data-retention scheme reflects similar views expressed by state law-enforcement agencies last week, during a parliamentary committee, where some were pushing for the data to be retained for longer than two years.

NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Lanyon said at the time that the police would like to see the data retained for up to seven years.

Lanyon said that murders, sexual assaults, and robberies can take several years to investigate, meaning the more data held, the more police has to work with.

Editorial standards