Senate backs Ludlam on data retention costs

Greens senator pushes government to table PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the cost of a data retention scheme

The Senate has passed a motion put by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam that calls on Attorney-General George Brandis to table a PricewaterhouseCoopers study into the cost to industry of implementing a data retention scheme.

Last month The Australian reported that PwC had been engaged by the government to investigate the cost telcos would incur to establish and maintain a data retention regime.

The government's scheme would cover "every man, woman and child, every device in the country," Ludlam told the Senate this afternoon.

"And of course that's going to be extremely costly. It amounts to little more than a surveillance tax — one that was not announced before the election. Industry presumably will pass on some of these costs to users and the rest will be picked up by taxpayers."

The PwC report should be entered into the public domain "so that we know what the cost will be," the senator said.

To move—That the Senate— (a) notes that:
(i) the Attorney-General‘s Department is reported to have contracted PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a financial study into the cost of the Government‘s data retention policy, and:
(ii) the Government has not stated what the cost to the Australian public and to the telecommunications industry of its data retention policy will be; and:
(b) orders that there be laid on the table by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis), no later than noon on Tuesday, 25 November 2014 the::
(i) terms of reference for the PricewaterhouseCoopers study, and:
(ii) any report provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers in the calendar year 2014 to the Government concerning the cost of data retention.

Internet service provider iiNet prior to the government introducing the bill estimated that a data retention regime could cost it $100 million to establish and maintain in its first two years.

Senator Mitch Fifield, the government's assistant minister for social services, said that tabling the report would reveal "commercially confidential and potentially market-sensitive information" given to PwC by telcos during the study.

"The government undertook to engage with industry in good faith and on the understanding that the information they would provide the government via PricewaterhouseCoopers would be kept confidential. To disclose their confiental informatoin in this way would be a flagrant breach of that understanding."

The Coalition government "has been transparent and open about the policy and legislative matters on this issue and is committed to ongoing engagement with all stakeholders," the Liberal senator said.

The Senate passed the motion 38 votes to 28. The motion orders Brandis to table the study by noon on 25 November.

The government introduced its data retention bill at the end of last month.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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