Data retention: Labor and Coalition unlikely to fight over bipartisan legislation

The Labor Party has committed itself to taking a hard look at the data retention legislation — legislation it helped push through parliament

Opinion | Attorney-General George Brandis has condemned Labor after a motion at the party's conference called for a review of data retention laws.

NSW Labor MP Jo Haylen moved the motion for a review of a data retention regime that was only able to be introduced thanks to the ALP's support.

"[Opposition leader] Bill Shorten and [shadow attorney-general] Mark Dreyfus must stick to their word and recommit the Labor Party to this legislation, which introduced important safeguards and oversight arrangements including significantly reducing the number of agencies that can access the data," thundered a statement issued yesterday by Brandis.

"Mr Shorten must confirm that if elected, he will not repeal our data retention laws. The Australian people deserve the certainty that our national security agencies will continue to have access to the data they need to investigate and interdict terrorist networks."

Haylen's motion merely committed Labor to a review of data retention — never mind that the legislation as passed (did I mention, already, that it was with bipartisan support?) will be subject to a review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security as part of the government's response to the PJCIS inquiry into the data retention bill.

The prospect that the Labor Party would actually move to repeal the data retention legislation or even fundamentally alter its operation seems remote at best.

Nonetheless Haylen's motion, which at least acknowledges potential issues with the scheme, drew praise from Internet Australia and Electronic Frontiers Australia.

Internet Australia "shares the concerns expressed about the number of agencies granted access to people's metadata and the threat to personal privacy rights from the legislation passed earlier in the year with the support of the Opposition" a statement issued by the organisation said.

"It's reassuring to see that within the wider ALP there remains an understanding of the importance of meaningful protections for individual privacy, and for the protection of whistle-blowers and other journalists' sources," EFA chair David Cake said in a statement.

"It's unfortunate however that the party leadership chose to allow this badly flawed legislation to pass the parliament despite these concerns. EFA looks forward to the opportunity to participate in a review of this legislation, should the ALP form government after the next election."

Data retention implementation

Leaving to one side the political posturing, the telecommunications industry remains stuck with implementing data retention. A 13 August deadline for lodging data retention implementation plans with the Attorney-General's Department looms.

Clusterfuck would be a charitable term to describe the current situation.

Confusion reigns in the industry.

Industry group Communications Alliance has argued that ISPs and telcos need more time to develop data retention implementation plans.

And data retention is only one aspect of what's shaping up as the telecommunications industry's annus horribilis, at least on the regulatory side of things.

Rights holders and telcos remain locked in negotiations over a copyright notice scheme developed under pressure from the government — who pays for the scheme's implementation and operation remains the sticking point.

The government earlier this year successfully passed legislation that will in some circumstances force ISPs to block access to websites linked to copyright infringement (again, with bipartisan support). ISPs will be stuck with the cost of compliance.

And now the government has revealed proposed legislation intended to boost the security of telecommunications infrastructure.

The draft bill (the somewhat innocuous sounding Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015) would give the government new powers to demand information from carriers and intervene in the telecommunications industry.

Unsurprisingly industry has been less than thrilled with the proposals. Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has made some conciliatory noises about industry concerns.

However, there is a good chance that telcos still won't find themselves in paroxysms of joy when the bill hits parliament in its final form.

And based on Labor's seeming willingness to rubberstamp any bill placed before the parliament with the term 'national security' in it — raising objections to the government's tranches of counter-terrorism legislation was largely the domain of the Greens, for example — is anyone really expecting the ALP to knock it back?

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