Mandatory data retention passes Australian parliament

The government and Labor have jointly ensured that the telecommunications data of all Australians will be retained for two years for warrantless access by law-enforcement agencies.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian government has relied on the votes of the Labor opposition to pass legislation on Thursday that will force telecommunications companies to retain customer data for two years for warrantless access by law enforcement.

The legislation -- which will see call records, assigned IP addresses, location information, billing information, and other customer data stored for two years -- passed the Senate on Thursday with the support of Labor senators.

The government and Labor shot down over a dozen amendments from the Greens, and several amendments from crossbench senators including those from David Leyonhjelm, Dio Wang, and Nick Xenophon.

The amendments would have forced the data to be held in Australia, would have required warrants for all accessing of the data, and would have limited the storage to three months -- bringing Australia closer into line with international standards.

Instead, the government agreed to a number of amendments from Labor, including requiring a warrant for accessing the data of a journalist for the purpose of identifying a source. The government will appoint a "public interest advocate" to argue on behalf of journalists -- who won't be aware that their data has been sought by law enforcement.

There was also intended to be an amendment limiting access to the data for the purposes of civil litigation, but Attorney-General George Brandis on Thursday admitted that through third-party access orders and subpoenas, data could be made available through the court for cases such as copyright infringement.

In the end, the Bill was condemned by Leyonhjelm, and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, but ultimately passed 43 to 16.

The Bill will need to be returned to the House to agree to the amendments, but with a government majority this is a mere formality.

The legislation passed without the Australian public knowing the cost of the scheme to telcos to build systems to store the data, nor how much the government intends to contribute to the set-up.

Earlier in the week, Brandis revealed that the cost per customer per year for the operation of the scheme will be $4, but the cost of building the systems, contained in a confidential PricewaterhouseCoopers report, remains unknown.

Brandis said the government's contribution will be detailed in the Budget in May.

Telecommunications companies will be given 18 months after the legislation is passed into law to get systems in place in order to comply with the legislation.

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