Data retention: iiNet raises spectre of ‘surveillance tax’ for ISP customers

iiNet comes out swinging against new talk of data retention

Internet service provider iiNet has hit out at confirmation that the government is actively considering a mandatory data retention scheme under which ISPs and telcos may be forced to keep records on their customers’ online activities.

In a blog entry posted today and attributed to iiNet chief regulatory officer, Steve Dalby, the ISP condemned data retention measures as police-state-like.

Dalby wrote that the ISP has received a data retention briefing paper from the attorney-general’s department.  “Law enforcement agencies (like ASIO and Federal and State Police) are proposing private companies, like iiNet, should keep ongoing and very detailed records of customers’ telephone and online activity,” Dalby wrote.

“We’re not talking targeted surveillance of individuals suspected of a crime, we’re talking about the wholesale collection and storage of data on your online, digital and telephone activity. These records are euphemistically labelled ‘metadata’ – and could include the unfiltered records of your browsing, updates, movements and phone calls, which can be readily matched to the identities in your customer account.”

iiNet will this month appear before a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which attorney-general George Brandis has charged with examining the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014.

That bill, unveiled last week by the attorney-general, does not include data retention. However, Brandis has confirmed that a data retention regime is "under active consideration by the government.”

Data retention is "not a matter that the Australian government has yet decided to do but it is true that it is under active consideration," Brandis said at a press conference last week.

In an edited excerpt from a submission iiNet has lodged with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, the ISP stated that “collecting and keeping every customer’s ‘metadata’ would require the construction of many new data centres, each storing petabytes ... of information at a cost of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. There is no suggestion that the government would pay these costs, so our customers will be expected to pick up these costs in the form of a new surveillance tax.”

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and the Communications Alliance have previously estimated that setting up a data retention scheme could cost more than half a billion dollars.

iiNet told a previous inquiry of the intelligence committee that a data retention scheme would cost $60 million to establish.

In 2012 the attorney-general’s department revealed it had not assessed the cost of such a scheme.

In today’s blog entry, Dalby also stated that systems housing data gathered under a scheme would become a target for hackers.

Establishing a data retention scheme received support from Labor when the party was in power. However after the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security released its 2013 report, which Brandis has cited as the basis for his new legislation, the then attorney-general, Labor’s Mark Dreyfus, said that “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.”

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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Tags civil libertiesGeorge Brandissecuritydata retentionSteve DalbyiiNetprivacy

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