Turnbull has 'grave misgivings' about data retention proposal

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has spoken out on the Australian government's data retention proposal for the first time.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that he has "grave misgivings" about the Federal government's proposal to force internet service providers (ISP) and other carriers to retain their customer's telecommunications data for up to two years.

The Federal government has proposed, as part of a suit of suggested modifications to telecommunications interception legislation, that ISPs be required to retain (as yet-undefined) customer "metadata" for up to two years.

So far, the Coalition, as a whole, has kept its position on the policy under wraps, although a number of backbenchers have privately expressed their concern of the policy to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

But last night, in his 2012 Alfred Deakin Lecture on digital liberty, Turnbull said that, as a matter of principle, people should have a right to have their browsing history, emails, tweets, and Facebook entries deleted permanently, if they so wish.

He said that Attorney-General Nicola Roxon's proposal was "vague," but "far-reaching".

"Internet companies will apparently be required to store parts of everyone's data, although there is no clarity as to which material will be kept, or why," he said.

"While the purported intent is that only metadata — data about data — will be available to law enforcement, security, and intelligence agencies, there is no explanation of how metadata will be distinguished from data. Why both would not be readily available once a message has been handed over and decrypted; and indeed how readily, in an IP world, it is possible to keep a record of the time, date, size, sender, receiver, and possibly subject of an email, without also retaining the contents."

He said that the government has not explained the costs and benefits of this "sweeping and intrusive new power." Turnbull said that, in addition to privacy issues, the proposal would also carry considerable costs for complying with the regime, highlighting the costs estimated by the likes of Telstra and other carriers.

There would also be the problem of data being hosted off-shore, by the likes of Google, which would likely not be kept by Google when a customer deletes that data, he said. He believes that ultimately, criminals would find ways to anonymise their communications to avoid being caught out by data retention.

"Without wanting to pre-empt the conclusions of the Parliamentary Committee, I must record my very grave misgivings about the proposal. It seems to be heading in precisely the wrong direction," he said.

"Surely, as we reflect on the consequences of the digital shift from a default of forgetting to one of perpetual memory, we should be seeking to restore, as far as possible, the individual's right — not simply to their privacy, but to having the right to delete that which they have created, in the same way as can be done in the analogue world."

He said it was "the latest effort" by the Labor government to restrain freedom of speech, comparing it to Labor's internet filtering policy.

Turnbull ended the speech by talking up his proposal for a "free electronic pigeonhole," where the government could send citizens, who opt in to the service, all their government communications.

"Over time, this would evolve into a personalised all-of-government portal for every person and every firm which chose to participate; able to be accessed from any device," he said.

"The savings to government are obvious. Data storage is very cheap. The processing and delivery of hard copy correspondence is extremely expensive."

Today, Turnbull is set to speak at the Communications Day Summit in Melbourne, where, according to the industry publication, he is set to advance his critique on NBN executives.

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