'We hold a lot of data today': Telstra unfazed by data retention

Telstra CEO David Thodey has indicated that through initial discussions with the Australian government he doesn't expect any mandatory data retention regime to be an issue for Telstra.

Australia's largest telecommunications company, Telstra, has flagged that a government proposal that would require the company to retain customer data for two years would not likely be a major issue for the telco.

Image: Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet

Last week Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis flagged that as part of a raft of new national security legislation, the government would develop legislation requiring telecommunications companies to retain so-called "metadata" for up to two years for warrantless access by government agencies for law enforcement investigations.

Abbott and Brandis initially stumbled over what exact data telcos would be required to retain, but by week's end, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull ruled out internet browsing history , insisting it would be limited to call logs and IP addresses allocated to customers at a specific time.

Turnbull and Brandis last week began meeting with telecommunications companies over the proposal, and Telstra CEO David Thodey confirmed that discussions had commenced, but overall he was not fazed by mandatory data retention.

"I should be clear about this: we hold a lot of data today. We've got to get some clarity around exactly what changes the government is asking but on the early discussions, we don't see it as a significant issue for Telstra going forward," he said.

Thodey made similar comments in 2012 when mandatory data retention was first publicly canvassed by the then-Labor government.

"It's more about the accessibility to the data. Because of our role as the national carrier, we work very closely with security agencies anyway, so it's probably not a bigger impost on us," he said.

Thodey's comments come in stark contrast to those made by iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby, who has said that mandatory data retention could cost iiNet AU$100 million in the first two years, and potentially more after that.

Piracy crackdown needs to be 'ubiquitous and fair'

As the government looks to the best way to deter Australians downloading infringing TV shows, films, and music over the internet, telcos such as iiNet are at odds with rights holders over who should pay for the system to enforce copyright on a telco's customers, and whether rights holders should ultimately sue infringers.

Telstra, which owns 50 percent of pay TV company Foxtel, faces a balancing act between its obligations as a telecommunications company, and being a content provider through Foxtel. Thodey was adamant today that piracy in Australia was an issue that needed to be addressed, and the lack of availability was not an excuse for piracy.

"This piracy of content is theft. I hold a very strong view on that. You can't justify it on the price of content. A whole industry exists to create great content. It's theft," he said.

He said rights holders and telcos needed to collaborate on a solution, and any scheme needed to apply across the board to all companies.

"The question is how we as an industry — both in terms of the rights holders and the telco industry — find a workable solution that is ubiquitous and fair. And I think we've got to work through that," he said.

"If we can play a role that helps prevent theft just like we do in any way to help law enforcement, we will, because we're an Australian company. We're subject to the laws of Australia. I think we need to take a positive attitude.

"There are problems with every solution, I don't have the answer yet, but I'm willing to sit down and try to find an answer for the good of all Australians."