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Government Moves On Metadata

Government Moves On MetadataMetadata legislation has been the subject of wide-ranging public debate, with privacy and cost concerns, along with its necessity, among the issues raised.

The federal government, however, is pushing ahead, with the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 introduced into the House of Representatives.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated the legislation is required in the evolving digital age, with the bill containing “a package of reforms to prevent the further degradation of the investigative capabilities of Australia’s law enforcement and national security agencies”.

The bill will require companies providing telecommunications services in Australia, carriers and internet service providers “to keep a limited, prescribed set of telecommunications data for two years”.

Turnbull stated access to metadata “plays a central role in almost every counter-terrorism, counterespionage, cybersecurity and organised crime investigation”, adding it is “also used in almost all serious criminal investigations”.

“Existing powers and laws are not adequate to respond to this challenge,” he stated.

“Preservation notices under the interception act can require carriers to ‘quick freeze’ records that they hold, but these notices cannot create records that have never been kept, and cannot bring back records that carriers have deleted days, weeks or months before a crime is brought to an agency’s attention.”

Turnbull stated the government is committed to addressing concerns about privacy, stating it will release the draft dataset and refer it, along with the bill, to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for review and public inquiry.

Under the legislation, Turnbull stated service providers will not be required to retain the content or substance of any communication, including subject lines of emails or posts on social media sites, with the act to expressly exclude a person’s web-browsing history, while providers will not be required to keep detailed location records that could allow a person’s movements to be tracked.

With regard to the costs of data retention, Turnbull stated the government will work in conjunction with industry.

“There has also been a great deal of conjecture about how much data retention may cost,” Turnbull stated.

“As I have previously stated, the government is committed to ongoing, good faith consultation with industry, and expects to make a substantial contribution to both the cost of implementation and the operation of this scheme.”

Meanwhile, Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin has stated the scheme could be used to target illicit downloading of music and movies, Fairfax Media has reported.

“Illegal downloads, piracy, cyber-crimes, cybersecurity, all these matters – our ability to investigate them is absolutely pinned to our ability to retrieve and use metadata,” Fairfax quoted Colvin as stating.