AU$400m for data retention the cost of freedom: Abbott

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned of an 'explosion of unsolved crime' without the introduction of a two-year mandatory metadata-retention scheme.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The introduction of a two-year mandatory metadata-retention scheme costing AU$400 million of taxpayers' money is a small price to pay, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday.

"The cost of data retention is less than 1 percent of the total sector," Abbott said. "It seems like a small price to pay to give ourselves the kind of safety and the kind of freedom that people in a country like Australia deserve."

Abbott warned that if parliament blocks the proposed data-retention scheme, it would be a form of "unilateral disarmament in the face of criminals".

The highest cost estimate for retaining the data is only 1 percent of the AU$40 billion telecommunications sector, he said.

"The cost of losing this data is an explosion in unsolved crime," Abbott told reporters on the Gold Coast while visiting the child protection organisation Bravehearts.

Abbott insisted that the changes will help authorities track terrorists, corporate fraudsters, and pedophiles, and said that privacy concerns have been overblown.

Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston said data retention is a "no-brainer" to help authorities find children being harmed, and offenders.

Labor has not confirmed whether it supports the Bill, but has raised concerns about the cost to telcos and the public, and implications for press freedom.

Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare said members of parliament should be given a clearer idea of how much the data-retention scheme will cost before they're asked to vote.

"This is too important for politics," he told Sky News.

Labor offered bipartisanship on the two previous tranches of counter-terrorism laws, but it wants concerns addressed, Clare said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it is "an important step forward" that Abbott has finally offered a cost estimate.

A parliamentary committee on intelligence is due to report back on the Bill by February 27.

The current mandatory data-retention legislation before the parliament would require telecommunications companies to retain an as-yet-undefined set of customer data for two years for warrantless access by government agencies for the purposes of law enforcement.

During parliamentary committee hearings conducted last month, Telstra warned that the creation of a centralised system within the company to hold onto metadata would make an attractive target for hackers, while competitor Optus said that the proposed system is workable, but would cost the company AU$200 million to establish.

Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at Finnish security company F-Secure, has called for the creation of governmental transparency reports to gain insight into how authorities make use of metadata retention.

"For example, if last year, the government infected 200 citizens' computers with a backdoor, and 190 of those ended up with a conviction ... they were found because of this tool. Or 190 were found to be innocent people who were doing nothing wrong, that's a big difference. Right now, we don't know which one it is," he told ZDNet.

"With transparency reports, we know such valuable information. Which would mean that we would be much better equipped to tell our politicians which one to vote [for] the next time laws are being passed.

"To me, it seems like a no-brainer. You don't have to tell me who you infected, you don't have to tell me what you were charging them with, but tell me how many of them turn out to be guilty.

"If you really think that metadata is so innocent, show us your metadata."

With AAP

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