Labor calls for release of mandatory data-retention legislation

Labor has called on the Australian government to release the exposure draft for legislation forcing telecommunications companies to keep customer data for two years.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

As speculation mounts that the government is likely to introduce legislation into the parliament shortly that will force telecommunications companies to retain customer data for two years, Labor is calling on the Australian government to release the exposure draft of the legislation.

Although the legislation does not appear on the list of legislation to be entered into parliament this sitting week, speculation is mounting that the government could enter the legislation as soon as this week. Attorney-General George Brandis has previously said that legislation would be introduced this year, and there are now just under three sitting weeks left in the year.

The so-called third tranche of national security legislation would require telecommunications companies to retain an as-yet-undefined set of customer communications data, such as name, address, time and location of calls, IP addresses, and other information for warrantless access by Australian government agencies investigating crimes or the protection of public revenue.

Under the current access regime, the Australian Communications and Media Authority reported that in the last financial year, Australian carriers handed over customer information over 500,000 times to Australian government agencies.

Both the Communications Alliance and Telstra CEO David Thodey have said that they need more clarity around what the government wants the telecommunications providers to retain before agreeing to the proposal, but with the clock running out, it is feared that the government may rush the legislation into the parliament before negotiations have been completed.

The Labor opposition, which did not oppose the first tranche of national security legislation, announced on Tuesday that it will not oppose the second tranche, and has called on Brandis to release the exposure draft for the data-retention legislation to allow public debate over the government's plans to take place.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus have written to the government, telling Brandis that in line with the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security's 2013 report recommendations, the exposure draft should be released ahead of the legislation, and should send the legislation to a parliamentary committee for full scrutiny.

"There has been much speculation about the content and depth of the government's proposed data-retention scheme and it has been abundantly clear that this is a complex area with a wide array of privacy implications and cost considerations," the shadow ministers stated.

"The Australian public should have as much opportunity as possible to consider the proposed regime and provide their views before this proposal becomes law."

It comes as tomorrow, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam's committee looking at the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act, including data retention, is expected to report back to parliament. Ludlam, along with Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, will hold an event in Parliament House to express concern at the mandatory data-retention proposal.

The three senators will be joined be representatives from a number of groups, including Electronic Frontiers Australia, Pirate Party Australia, Internet Society of Australia, the Institute of Public Affairs, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, iiNet, and the Communications Alliance.

A spokesperson for the attorney-general had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Editorial standards