Ozlog: Government pushes ahead with data retention plans

The federal government is continuing to explore data retention by ISPs

The federal government is pushing ahead with reforms that could see consumers' information kept on file for up to two years by internet service providers (ISPs).

This could include the data retention of personal internet browsing information which intelligence agencies could access in the event of criminal activities by individuals or organisations.

Attorney-general Nicola Roxon told 774 ABC Melbourne last week that she has referred the matter to the joint intelligence committee, as well as other reforms to four pieces of legislation: the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979; the Telecommunications Act 1997; the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979; and the Intelligence Services Act 2001.

While she said the government is still considering whether to pursue the data retention reforms, she admitted police and intelligence agencies would like to see them go ahead “so that if someone then comes to the notice of security agencies or the police, that you'd be able to go back in certain circumstances to pull out that information”.

“Now obviously that is quite an ambitious and contentious proposal.”

Roxon said a parliamentary committee on the topic would allow the public to be involved in the discussion, with the government to decide whether to pursue the reforms based on the committee’s findings.

Kim Heitman, secretary of Electronic Frontiers Australia, told Computerworld Australia that while the public will have a chance to comment on the reforms, the rest of the talks will be held secretly.

“The government ruthlessly uses the [freedom of information] FOI exemptions and confidentiality agreements to lock the public out of discussions on security, copyright infringement or new privacy laws. This pervasive secrecy on internet matters is a government failure and the genesis of bad legislation,” he said.

Heitman believes the reforms would be “lazy law enforcement” and said collecting and storing every mouse click and download of every user for two years would culminate in a staggering amount of data.

“While the hasty grab for this data by law enforcement agencies is bad – experience shows that these powers will be abused and officials corrupted - the availability of this honey-pot to identity thieves, malicious and criminal intrusion or careless release of sensitive personal information is a statistical certainty,” he said.

“Crooks and terrorists will just use encryption or secure services to provide nothing but meaningless data - it's Mr or Mrs Average whose lives could be turned upside down by data breaches or bureaucratic spying.”

Heitman also pointed out it would be expensive for internet service providers to implement and maintain data retention at this level as it needs to be properly stored and possibly backed-up and duplicated. The law could also extend from not only to computers but also to smartphones and tablets, he said.

While Roxon said the government will assess how much the initiative would cost and what impact it would have on privacy issues, Heitman believes the costs will ultimately be passed onto consumers as an “added [insult] to a privacy injury”.

Roxon announced the review into national security legislation 4 May this year, asking the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to consider security reforms through public hearings. The proposed reforms are in response to telcos deleting data on a more regular basis.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security will report to the government later this year.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Well, isn't that nice. Off the top of my head, there's three major problems:

First, there's too much of it; even if storage is cheap, sifting through all that data is still a problem, and will remain so even if our filtering trickery gets orders of magnitude better. Then there's the problems of noise and the data not necessarily meaning what you want it to. But of course you can fix that, much like statistics are nicely pliable to the skilled manipulator. It goes on.

Second, in practice the data gets used for things it wasn't meant for. Including for things promised it would never be used for, honest. In the UK all that CCTV footage mostly gets used to fine for littering and other important high crime like that. Certain councils even proudly announce that achievement. Catching muggers and rapists, not so much. In the Netherlands the ANPR systems get used to fleece the populace a bit more (a general trend now that the government coffers are a bit empty-ish; the police is very busy checking for tax arrears at road blocks) but not for catching dangerous criminals because then the police are suddenly "too busy".

Third, data retention generally turns "innocent until proven guilty" on its head. It would eventually even allow for data-mining for new crimes and then find suitable criminals to the crimes. If you think that's too outlandish, talk to people versed in data mining. We're steadily getting better at it.

All in all, governments have a habit of breaking their promises, so you can't trust them with that much power. There's a reason for all those "checks and balances", and this is a good way for them to squirm around the constraints. The retention thing has already shown not to live up to its promises, so for Australia to push ahead with it now says volumes about its government, police and secret services, and their relationship to the citizens they're ostensibly there to protect and serve.



This has reduced me to a state of gibbering fury. I want to fight this, if anyone has any ideas on how to effective bring this down please post so I can get involved.

I'm not a band wagon kind of person, but in this case I will build the damn wagon myself if given instructions.



Without needing to go to the specific details of the proposal, the danger with this level of surveillance is that if somebody, say, uses the word 'terrorism', it will be picked up and they become a subject for investigation.

Ooops, what have I just said!?



Luddites often require old-tech or non-tech examples to help them understand what they're appraising, so here's an example: it's just like phone-tapping.

It's not okay to tap people's phones, and not it's okay to monitor everyone's internet activity. If they want to monitor someone, facilities should be made available that cater for that in a similar way to alternate communications mediums like phones.

This is reminiscent of the inconsistency in the R18+ categorisation for various types of media (e.g. video games don't have an adult rating).

The government clearly needs more technical advisors that are capable of drawing parallels to less technical existing systems.



Please consider the impact of this with the (legally) secret and scurrilous detailed personal databases held by politicians and political parties... as long as the legislation allows us the community to get FoI responses that include these amazingly intrusive databases (which cannot be shown NOT to contain leaks (?) from police health and other convenient sources)
The pollies have their secrets and are totally unaccountable for the data and hearsay that they amass on a very large scale.. so if the political exemption was removed from them.. THEN maybe we could perhaps support the legislation- as long as we could ask what is held on US and correct it at the very least.. of course such ethical actions will not occur under the current (and certainly the probable future) ultra trivia focussed and self seeking Australian Parliament.....

Data Raped


A better analogy is someone sitting in front of the letterbox of your house with a photocopier, sitting in the corner of your doctor's office copying down everything you say, to your priest, your accountant, your lawyer, your best friend, and recording that private video 'chat' you had with your wife, recording exactly what time you leave the house and every person you come in contact with (via your mobile phone's cell, wifi and gps data). Logging and monitoring Opposition party MPs, citizen's rights groups, journalists, whistleblowers, ombudsmen, anticorruption watchdogs, etc. Trading your data with foreign agencies for intel. But of course you can trust them, look at how securely they protect their own diplomatic cables. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear?? So why wear clothes, hide a diary in a drawer, have curtains? Funny how governments don't support it when Wikileaks or Anonymous apply the same standards to them. Surely your local ISP is going to be FAR more secure to store this info too. Now governments won't even need the Andy Coulson's of this world, or people to 'hack' your voicemail - especially when collection of economic & commercial intelligence is now an official mandate of goverment intel services. Ten years ago, people would be shocked and appalled at this - today they just suck it up. What will we be happily taking in another 10 years? Mandatory government toilet bowl cams? Isn't that far less intrusive anyway than an open key to our private information, communications, (thoughts?)

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