Australia Passes Mandatory Data Retention Laws

Australia flag parliament government © Neale Cousland Shutterstock

Communications metadata can now be accessed by Australian government without need of a search warrant

Telecommunication firms and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Australia will soon be required to store the metadata of their customers’ communications for two years.

The requirement comes after both major Australian political parties backed the controversial data retention bill, which permits governmental access to the data, without the need for a search warrant.

Metadata Storage

data centreThe Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015 cleared a major hurdle this week in Australia after it secured 43 votes to 16 in the Australian Senate. It will then almost certainly will be rubber stamped in the lower House of Representatives and become law.

Both the ruling Liberal Party of Australia and the opposition Australian Labor Party have backed the bill, with the only opposition coming from the Australian Green party, and several independents. The Greens argued strongly against the law, saying it would entrench “passive, mass surveillance”.

But the major political parties in Australia argued that the law was needed to help law enforcement agencies in their counter-terrorism and serious crime investigations.

The law requires the retention of customer metadata for two years, during which time the Australian law enforcement authorities do not require any search warrant to access the data. Instead, security agencies will be able to access the data if they can make a case that it is “reasonably necessary” to an investigation.

The data stored will be call records (numbers and call length), email and IP addresses, location and billing information, and other customer data. However, the content of the communication will not be stored.

Yet the law is controversial as there has been no public disclosure as to how much it will cost to implement the law. And the Liberal and Labor Party have overruled amendments that would have required the data to be stored on Australian territory.

Other amendments were also rejected, to limit the storage to only three months instead of the current two years, and the requirement for search warrants to access the data.

However, one amendment was made to ensure the protection of journalist data such as whistleblower information and anonymous sources. Australian law enforcement now needs to obtain a search warrant to access this journalist data, and a public interest advocate will argue on behalf of the journalists in each case.

But it seems that Aussie journalists will not even be informed if their data is being requested by the authorities.

Enough Safeguards?

Attorney-General George Brandis reportedly said that the legislation strikes the right balance.

“It does contain safeguards that were not there before, it is in the Government’s view, shared I’m pleased to say by the Opposition, a measured and proportionate response,” he was quoted as saying by ABC News.

Telecom firms and ISP in Australia have 18 months to get systems in place to comply with the legislation when it is passed.

The Australian development is in notably contrast to Europe. In April 2014, the highest European Union court, the European Court of Justice, rejected a Directive that told telecoms providers to retain data.

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