Government backs down from data retention – for now

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government would consider all 43 recommendations by the committee

The federal government has backed down from data retention proposals following a parliamentary report examining telecommunications interception in Australia.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) released a report on Monday detailing several recommendations around a data retention regime but did not state whether it supported such a regime.

“Accordingly, the government will not pursue a mandatory data retention regime at this time and will await further advice from the departments and relevant agencies and comprehensive consultation,” Mark Dreyfus, Attorney-General, said in a statement.

The inquiry by the PJCIS examined proposals for changes to telecommunications interception, telecommunications sector security and Australian intelligence community legislation.

The committee recommended the government pay for any costs associated with providers implementing data retention measures and for the committee to provide oversight to any regime.

It also recommended that any data retention legal framework cover only metadata and exclude the content of electronic communications, such as emails and text messages. Where content cannot be separated from metadata, a warrant should be requested, the report said.

The report also recommended Web browsing be excluded; stored data should be encrypted; data should be held for two years at most; and a data breach notification scheme be introduced.

Dreyfus said the government would now consider all 43 recommendations by the committee.

“The recent events in Boston and London highlight the ongoing threat of terrorism and the need to ensure our intelligence agencies have the tools they need to keep Australians safe and secure,” Dreyfus said. “This inquiry was part of this government’s plan to engage more broadly with the community on national security issues and to ascertain the views of experts before modernising our national security legislation.”

The Communications Alliance and Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) have both welcomed the report.

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said the committee has struck a “reasonable balance”.

“We welcome the fact that the Committee has focused on the protection of consumers’ privacy, the need for government transparency and the necessity to develop proposals in consultation with industry and to take account of the cost implications for industry flowing from potential security-related reforms,” he said.

The data retention proposals were announced by former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon in May last year in response to telcos deleting data on a more regular basis.

The announcement was met with a strong public backlash, with Roxon citing the need for law enforcement to use data retention to solve crimes, hinting that the laws would go ahead in some form or another.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has strongly opposed any potential data retention regime and said the proposals should be rejected by the federal government.

Ludlam previously told Computerworld Australia he suspects if the Coalition wins the September election it will forge ahead with data retention legislation.

The committee’s report comes on the back of controversy around the PRISM national security surveillance program run by the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States.

Under this program, the NSA allegedly sources data from a number of major tech firms for surveillance, including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

So far the Australian government has refused to confirm or deny whether US intelligence agencies have shared information gleaned from PRISM with authorities in Australia.

The US has now formally charged Edward Snowden, who leaked information about the program to the media, with espionage.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Tags Nicola RoxonMark DreyfusEdward Snowdendata retention

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