Senate committee to investigate data retention by ISPs

Committee will also look at privacy on social networking sites and Government capture of data

A Senate Committee will launch an inquiry into the collection of online data by Government agencies and private companies, including Internet service providers (ISPs).

The Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communication and the Arts will also look into online privacy on social networking sites and submit a report by 20 October, 2010.

The move comes after revelations the Federal Government planned to enact laws to force ISPs to retain data on its users and follows Google’s apology for capturing WiFi data through its Street View cars that included passwords and e-mail.

In a statement, Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam, said recent events had proven there were many challenges to online privacy.

“Most recently, the Government is investigating options to compel ISPs to collect the web browsing history of all Australians, for purposes which are not at all clear,” Ludlam said.

“It is time the Parliament took a proper look at the degree to which the privacy of Australians online is being eroded by Governments and corporations alike.”

Several ISPs recently told Computerworld Australia that online personal data will be placed at risk and they may be forced to cough up millions if the Federal Government acts on its plans to legislate data retention laws.

A handful of industry sources present at a closed-door, high-level meeting with the Federal Attorney-General (AG) allege the proposed laws will force ISPs to capture, retain and secure the search engine results of Australians at their expense, which some say could run into millions of dollars.

But one top director of an ISP who wished to remain anonymous due to confidentiality agreements said the AG had discussed the feasibility of data retention laws for more than a decade.

Optus government and corporate affairs chief, Maha Krishnapillai, and Communications Alliance chief executive officer, John Stanton, both cautioned the government to consider the proposal’s privacy and security ramifications on industry.

This week in the Senate, Senator Penny Wong, representing the Attorney-General's Department, said the data would be used to identify "parties to a communication, when and where that communication was made and the communication's duration, [but understands] it would not extend to the content of the communication”.

"My advice is the government would ensure that any proposal would be consistent with the privacy act and the government's privacy reforms," she answered in response to questions.

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