Coalition government 'chaotic' in 'poorly managed' data retention plans

A day after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull praised a report stating Labor's NBN planning was chaotic, his government is being accused of the same sin over its handling of mandatory data retention proposals.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The government has acted chaotic in announcing a massive mandatory data retention regime without detail on what data actually needs to be retained, according to iiNet.

In the 24 hours since Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis stepped into a press conference room in Parliament House to announce plans to implement a massive mandatory data retention regime, Abbott, Brandis, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have all offered conflicting definitions of what "data" telcos would have to retain for access by government agencies for law enforcement investigations.

Under the existing system, government agencies from local councils, animal welfare groups up to ASIO can access call log data without a warrant.

The scope of the data set, the length of time the data will be retained for, and which government agencies will have access to that data under the new system being developed by the government all remain a mystery.

Brandis this morning said it would simply be email and call origin, destination, and time, but Abbott indicated this morning it may also include web browsing history.

Reportedly, the Prime Minister's office has backtracked on these comments stating that access to web browsing history would require a warrant, however, both Abbott and Brandis' offices have failed to respond to a request for comment from ZDNet.

The internet service providers, which would be required to store the data, also remain in the dark about the government's proposal a day since the announcement. It is understood that the government has told the industry body, the Communications Alliance, that ISPs will be briefed, but iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby said he had yet to hear from the government.

"Most of the information we're getting from is the media," he said.

Dalby had not yet heard from the minister responsible for the telecommunications sector, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who yesterday was trumpeting a report into the original NBN planning process that said the Labor government's handling of the planning of the NBN was "rushed, chaotic, and inadequate". Dalby said today that the Coalition government was being chaotic on data retention.

"It's not as though this is not a controversial issue. It's not helpful to be so chaotic, and so poorly managed a process that even within government there is uncertainty about what is required."

Dalby said the only written evidence of data sets wanted by the government was a document provided to the ISPs from the Attorney-General's Department that asks for all origin and destination addresses for all call records, internet records, email records and services including VoIP.
"It was pretty broad. It was in effect saying 'we want everything'. It was certainly saying they wanted it on all customers, not a subset."

Other than that, he said he was only aware of conflicting statements from the government that telecommunications companies are only being asked to retain what they already keep, or the government wants the companies to keep the as-yet-undefined "metadata" but not the content of communications.

iiNet, which Dalby said has a 15 percent marketshare, has approximately 3 Petabytes of data going across its network every day, and it is estimates that the company would need to strip approximately 1 Petabyte of this data to retain as metadata.

Australia's largest telecommunications company, Telstra, told ZDNet today that it was unable to comment on data retention proposals without being provided detail on the proposals.

Turnbull has yet to comment on the proposal since Cabinet gave an "in principle" approval of the mandatory data retention regime yesterday. According to The Conversation, the proposal caused an "internal blow up" during the Cabinet meeting.

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