Greens predict 'kinder, gentler' data retention to return post-election

Australian Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam has predicted that data retention will return after the September election.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Proposed changes to telecommunications interception legislation to force ISPs to retain customer data for two years won't get passed before the election, according to Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam, but it will be back within six months.

When the Australian government floated potential reforms to telecommunications interception legislation in July last year, a small section mentioning a proposal to require ISPs to retain customer data for up to two years became the most criticised proposed reforms, filling up committee hearings and drawing criticism from all sides of politics.

The parliamentary committee investigating the proposals has still yet to report on its findings, and with just five sitting weeks left before the September 14 federal election, Ludlam told ZDNet that he doubted that any legislation on data retention would be rushed through.

"I suspect we will end up with a kinder, gentler data retention after the election, and in the short term, that committee report will make it go away for six months," he said.

Ludlam suggested that the government, which would lose an election held today by a significant margin according to current polling figures, would likely be focusing on legacy items, such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme or the Gonski education reforms for the remainder of the current term, rather than pushing through a "nasty poison pill" like data retention.

"I think what has happened is that we've pushed it underground again," he said. "When it bobs up, it is treated with the alarm and contempt that it deserves, and then it goes underground again to stay out of an election campaign."

Ludlam likened it to the Labor government's proposed mandatory internet filter, which was pushed back in 2010 during election time, and ultimately killed off in favour of the Interpol filter last year.

"Where I think data retention will go is, the Attorney-General's department had floated fairly deliberately a set of claims that would be beaten back to what they ultimately wanted anyway. Maybe we'll end up with six months of data retention for a better defined set of categories, and maybe that's what they're after."

Six months of retaining data is something that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy had suggested to the Attorney-General's Department would be more appropriate than a longer length of time.

Ludlam said that this scope creep was also something he was concerned about with the internet filter. He said it is operating under the radar, and through the legal mechanism that requires ISPs to block domain names if ordered to by the Australian Federal Police, has the potential to block far more than just Interpol's "worst of the worst" of child abuse websites.

"That framing could arguably be used against people torrenting their favourite TV shows," he said. "To my mind, where we ended up with the Interpol filter is vastly better off than where the agenda was being driven to, but I still feel like it is unfinished business in terms of where it could go, particularly where it could go under Attorney-General George Brandis."

Following Monday's debate hosted by ZDNet between Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Ludlam called on the Coalition to begin to make it clear exactly which premises would now miss out on getting fibre to the premises under the Coalition's alternative proposal, which would see the National Broadband Network (NBN) scaled back to fibre to the node for most premises.

"Name names. Who is going to miss out if there is a change of government? Now I think we're not too far away from being in a position to know, suburb by suburb, who is going to be in the 21st century and who is going to be in the 20th in a Coalition NBN world," he said.

Ludlam said he continued to back the fibre-to-the-premises network design because fibre to the node would be obsolete as soon as it was completed.

"You're going to be building something that is obsolete on the day it is built, and you'll immediately be planning for when you're decommissioning these nodes one by one because you're going fibre to the premise," he said.

"Why would you build something like that when you knew it wasn't going to be fit for purpose for very long?"

Editorial standards