'

Telcos offered more time to comply with data-retention scheme

Australian telcos that are not able to get systems in place to store all data related to the communications of their customers by October will be able to ask for up to 18 months' extra time to comply.

The Australian Attorney-General's Department has informed telcos that they can apply for an 18-month extension past October this year to comply with the new data-retention regime.

Data-retention legislation passed in March will force Australian telecommunications companies to retain customer data, including call records, assigned IP addresses, text message details, and location data, for two years. Australia's law-enforcement agencies can then access this data with only internal approval, and without judicial oversight -- except when accessing the data of a journalist for the purpose of investigating a leak.

The government has offered what it believes will be about half the cost to set up the systems to store this data, allocating AU$131 million for the telecommunications companies in May's federal Budget.

The telcos are now expected to be retaining the data, but full compliance with the legislation is not expected for carriers until October 13, 2015.

The Attorney-General's Department has realised that despite the funding, applying the scheme to the entire telecommunications industry -- large and small -- means compliance by October will likely be beyond the ability of some smaller organisations. In a notice sent to telcos, AGD said that telecommunications companies can apply for an extension of up to 18 months with the AGD's communications access coordinator.

Others can also apply to have specific services exempt from the data-retention regime. Telecommunications companies had raised concerns during the development of the legislation that services such as IPTV would be caught by the scheme, requiring ISPs to store much more data than will never be required by law-enforcement agencies.

Despite passing all of its planned "tranches" of national security legislation, the Australian government is continuing to ramp up its rhetoric around national security. Last week, despite the government not yet announcing any plans to crack down on encryption, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus indicated that Labor could support measures to fight encryption used to evade government surveillance.

"I don't think we can go past the fact that there will be circumstances, there will be particular circumstances, where everybody in the community I think would want our police, our intelligence agencies, to have access," Dreyfus told ABC's Lateline last week.

The government has not yet announced plans to crack down on the use of encryption, but a number of government MPs have admitted to using apps that encrypt communications, including Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has flagged that he would like to see encryption of online communications banned.