Location data to be stored under Australian data-retention regime

Under amendments to Australia's upcoming data-retention laws, the location of a communication will be kept for a period of two years.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor and  Leon Spencer, Contributor

After days of debate, the Australian government has finally released the amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 that the Coalition agreed to in order to ensure the Bill's passage through parliament with the help of the Labor party. The amendments show the "kinds of information to be kept" rather than a definitive explanation of the exact data set to be retained under the data-retention regime.

The "kind" of information to be retained will be: Subscriber information; subscriber contact details; identifiers of the source and destination of a communication that the service provider has, or attempted to, sent, forwarded, routed, or transferred; the date and time of communications; the type of communication, such as voice, SMS, email, chat, forum, and social media; the service used, such as ADSL, Wi-Fi, VoIP, cable, GPRS, VoLTE, and LTE; and features on the service such as data volume usage and call waiting.

Under the amendments made to the Bill, the location of equipment used during a communication, such as each of the cell towers used, or the location of the Wi-Fi hotspot used, will also be retained for two years.

Earlier on Thursday in the House of Representatives, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the creation of a public interest advocate to make submissions in response to journalist information warrants that would allow access to journalists' metadata to identify a source.

"The government has announced that it will move amendments to require a warrant to access data for the purpose of identifying a journalist's confidential source. It will also establish a public interest advocate that will have a role in respect of making submissions in respect of those warrants," Turnbull said.

"These are the amendments that have been negotiated with the opposition, and I thank them for that."

A two-year imprisonment penalty will also be introduced for disclosing the use, existence or non-existence, and revocation of journalist information warrants unless otherwise permitted.

The amendments represent the changes recommended by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security in its report on the data-retention scheme.

Among the recommendations, the committee said that civil litigants should be prohibited from accessing data held as part of the metadata regime, individuals would have a right to access their own metadata, and any retained data be encrypted.

With these amendments, the attorney-general remains able to unilaterally make changes to what is retained and who could access the data in "emergency circumstances". Any such declarations made by the attorney-general would expire after 40 sitting days of parliament, with amendments to legislation to be brought before parliament within the 40-day window.

Earlier this week, a letter signed by the CEOs of Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, iiNet, Macquarie Telecom, and M2, among others, demanded that the government provide certainty around how much it is willing to pay for the mandatory data-retention legislation.

The Attorney-General's Department has said on its website that the upfront capital cost to industry of the regime's implementation would be between AU$188.8 million and AU$319.1 million, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' estimates.

The amendments allow for the government to make grants of financial assistance to service providers for the purpose of assisting them comply, but the terms of those agreements will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The data retention Bill follows the passing into law of the government's National Security Legislation Amendment Bill, which gaves ASIO the power to monitor every device on the internet, and the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill, which handed ASIO greater powers to get metadata and computer access for national security purposes.

Editorial standards