Australian government shelves data retention plans

The Australian government has said that it will not progress plans for a mandatory data retention scheme.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has said that the government will not pursue a proposal to require internet service providers (ISPs) to retain customer data for up to two years.

The parliamentary committee investigating the data retention proposal and a number of other proposed legislative changes to telecommunications and national security legislation today issued its report, and put the decision on whether to progress with a mandatory data retention scheme back on the government.

Law enforcement agencies have pushed for the scheme, as they have said that much of the so-called metadata — such as information about when a call is made, the phone number, the location, and the duration — is no longer being kept by telcos for billing purposes. The committee found that while agencies are generally for the proposal, the public submissions were largely against the scheme.

Over 40 government agencies made 293,501 requests for metadata from ISPs in 2011-12, all without the requirement of a warrant.

Dreyfus today welcomed the committee's report, and said that the government would consider all 43 recommendations, and develop a package of measures for further public consultation, but this would not include any data retention scheme at this time.

"The government will not pursue a mandatory data retention regime at this time, and will await further advice from the departments and relevant agencies and comprehensive consultation," Dreyfus said in a statement.

Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said today that the government must abandon the data retention scheme entirely.

"98.9 percent of public submissions to the National Security Inquiry were opposed to mandatory data retention," he said in a statement. "This report refused to endorse data retention and condemned government's secretive approach. Today, the government must respect the will of the vast majority of Australians, and abandon a scheme that would treat all 22 million of us as suspects."

Ludlam was, however, critical of the committee report for failing to disclose details on data sharing with overseas agencies, such as the NSA.

"The PRISM scandal erupted after the committee had concluded taking evidence, and the report ignores the possibility of large-scale warrantless surveillance over Australian citizens by foreign governments," he said. "The bulk of the report focuses on the minutiae of surveillance regulations in Australia which may have been rendered completely redundant by transfers of data from the US.

"The government must abandon data retention, and reveal the whole truth on the 'deluge' of information it is receiving from foreign intelligence agencies, including the NSA."

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