Data retention's underlying attitude problems

Data retention for law enforcement is one of the most important political issues relating to our use of the internet now and as far into the future as we care to imagine — and it's being mishandled.

The idea that all sorts of data about every single internet communication you're involved with being stored by your internet service provider (ISP) or maybe someone else for months, maybe years, on the off chance that it'll come in handy for investigating some crime someday is a live political issue in Australia right now, but it's important wherever you are.

The "five eyes" nations — the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand — have agreed that the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime is the model they'll adopt. They've also agreed to promote this to the rest of the world as the model that they should follow, too. Data retention is at heart of that convention.

We've spoken about this on the Patch Monday podcast before, in an episode in July called The politics of data retention , and one in January called The war on the internet: It's all about power . Dig around, and you'll find plenty that I've said and written about this stuff over the past couple of years.

But twice in the last week, I've heard Australian law-enforcement and intelligence officials making three key claims about their data-retention proposals, and I reckon they're not true — or at least not accurate. And to top it all off, I reckon that they've got an attitude problem. Backs have stiffened, and they've become quite defensive when asked to justify all this. I think that's wrong.

In this week's Patch Monday podcast, I'll present some extracts from a recent Australian Senate committee hearing and yesterday's episode of ABC Radio's Background Briefing on data retention to make my points. Key among them is that the Australian government's current working definition of data retention (PDF) is totally unworkable.

To leave an audio comment on the program, Skype to stilgherrian, or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

Running time 37 minutes, 06 seconds