Greens flag AU$1.5 billion NBN policy, Aussie GDPR, data retention repeal

The Greens party wants to invest AU$1.5 billion to make the NBN more equitable, AU$100 million in video game development, and AU$63 million in digital inclusiveness, as well as repealing data retention and setting up a Digital Rights Commissioner and GDPR-esque laws.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australia's Greens party has announced its policies across National Broadband Network (NBN) connectivity, as well as on digital rights across privacy and security, also calling for the mandatory data retention scheme to be repealed.

AU$1.5 billion NBN policy

Announced by Senator Jordon Steele-John on Wednesday night at Canberra Technology Park, the Greens party criticised the Coalition's NBN multi-technology mix approach to providing broadband across the nation.

The Greens party's NBN plan would see a AU$1.3 billion Federal Telecommunications Concession established; a AU$250 million NBN migration program to close the digital divide in regional areas; ensuring NBN infrastructure will remain publicly owned; and see the NBN rollout completed using "best-choice technology".

It would also make "quality" connectivity more affordable, and ensure regional telecommunications are "funded, fair, and fit for purpose".

"The Greens will establish a Federal Telecommunications Concession, worth AU$1.3 billion, at a value of AU$60 per quarter and payable to all holders of a DHS Health Care Card to replace the limited telephone allowance, and an NBN migration program, worth AU$250 million, to help close the digital divide and enable all Australians to participate fully in our digital economy, society, and government," Steele-John said.

"We are committed to fixing the NBN and ensuring all Australian's have access to affordable and reliable high-quality internet and voice services for the 21st Century."

Read also: Australia's 2018 Budget: How the federal government is funding and adopting tech (Free PDF)

Back in 2016 leading up to the federal election, the Greens Party had told ZDNet that its NBN policy would involve a multi-party analysis into how to roll out the network using the most cost-efficient and 20- to 30-year future-proof technology.

The party at the time predicted that such an analysis would show that much of the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network is not fit for purpose, resulting in those areas being transitioned to fibre to the premises (FttP). Once the current fibre-to-the-node (FttN) contractual obligations are met, it would also move any further planned FttN areas to FttP technology.

The Greens had also said the fixed-wireless footprint should be reduced to 4 percent of the population rather than the present 5 percent, and that a third satellite would need to be launched to match capacity demands in rural areas.

Aussie GDPR

Steele-John also addressed privacy and security concerns, referring particularly to the Peter Dutton-led Department of Home Affairs or DHA superministry created by the Coalition.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had in July last year made the decision to create the DHA, with all federal law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to report into it as of July 1, 2018.

This includes the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australian Federal Police (AFP), Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), and the office of transport security.

See: Why Australia is quickly developing a technology-based human rights problem (TechRepublic)

"In the last few years, we've seen a truly terrifying expansion of the powers of the Home Affairs Department aided by a compliant Labor party more worried about appearing soft to voters than protecting our rights to privacy, security, and safety online," Steele-John said.

"Meanwhile, we've seen the equally terrifying rise of surveillance capitalism and data-farming -- pioneered by Facebook -- that has already had a significant impact on democracies across the world.

"If we don't make a concerted effort now to enshrine our digital rights in legislation and follow the lead of world leaders in this space, such as the recently enacted GDPR in the European Union, then we will never be able to wind back government overreach in this space."

The Greens party therefore wants to establish a Digital Rights Commissioner, and an update and strengthening of Australia's privacy laws, similar to the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Data retention repealed

A one-liner in the Greens' digital policy stated that the party wants to "repeal the mandatory data retention scheme".

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015, passed by the Australian government in March 2015, came into effect in October that year. It mandates that customer call records, location information, IP addresses, billing information, and other data be stored by telcos for two years, accessible without a warrant by law-enforcement agencies with the exception of journalist metadata.

While the purpose of the Act was to use retained data in an effort to combat national security threats such as terrorism, an Attorney-General's Department (AGD) report in August last year revealed that it is mainly being used to investigate drug-related offences.

During October 13, 2015, to June 30, 2016, the AGD report said illicit drug offences involved 57,166 authorisations to view telco data. This was followed by miscellaneous, homicide, robbery, fraud, theft, and abduction.

Terrorism offences ranked below property damage and cybercrime, with 4,454 data retention authorisations made during that period.

When the metadata laws were passed, access was reduced to 21 enforcement agencies; however, 61 agencies that previously had access to metadata subsequently looked to be added as declared enforcement agencies.

As reported previously by ZDNet, the AGD had been advising agencies and departments to attempt to access metadata through other means; and organisations including taxi commissions and local councils continued seeking access to telco metadata, a report earlier this week revealed.

Meanwhile, an Ombudsman investigation into the "accidental" use of journalist metadata by the AFP last year found that the AFP was unaware of the legal requirements.

Other digital initiatives

The Greens party also wants to support Australia's video game development industry under a AU$100 million Games Investment and Enterprise Fund, a AU$5 million fund to set up "creative co-working spaces", and an extension of film and TV offsets to video game developers.

Lastly, the Greens said it would invest AU$62.5 million in making digital media more accessible and inclusive: AU$58 million over four years to improve captioning, audio description, relay, and translation services; AU$3.5 million over four years to establish a National Disability Telecommunications Service; and AU$1.1 million over four years to set up a "safe, dedicated online platform for the promotion of discussion, debate, and cultural development within the disability community".

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