Despite the ongoing objections of big industry players and privacy advocates from both sides, the Government's National Security Committee has reportedly signed off on a proposal that would compel ISPs and telcos to retain customer metadata for a period of two years.
Proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Interception Act have long been under consideration by the government, which would require ISPs and telcos to collect, store and provide access to the metadata of its customers. Said metadata would be used at a later date by law enforcement agency to help solve crimes.
According to a News Limited report, the NSC signed off on the proposal this week, after a "marathon" meeting in Canberra yesterday. Members of the National Security Commission include the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, Treasurer Joe Hockey, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Attorney General George Brandis just to name a few.
At a special hearing into the proposed changes to the Telecommunications Interception Act last month, iiNet -- arguably the loudest dissenting voice in the data retention chorus -- argued that the proposal to retain data on customers was "un-Australian". Ahead of the hearings, iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby said that the data retention proposal isn't unnecessary:
"The focus of this data retention proposal is not crooks; it’s the 23 million law-abiding men, women and children that will go about their daily lives without ever bothering law enforcement. Those 23 million customers include my 93-year-old mum and my 12-year-old niece. We don’t believe that is either necessary or proportionate for law enforcement.
"We’ve seen no evidence that justifies surveilling inoffensive customers on the chance that, two years later, some evidence might help an investigation. It’s the equivalent of collecting and storing every single haystack in the country, indexing and filing all the straws, keeping them safe for two years, just in case there’s a needle, somewhere. We don’t know if there’s a needle, but there might be. I say forget spying on my mother and niece and get on with chasing the crooks,
The Greens have added their concerns to the debate, with Greens Senator Scott Ludlam previously stating that it treats all citizens like suspects.
“Data retention as envisaged by the Government will entrench huge databases that can be mined for precise patterns of our movements, purchases, interests, friends, and conversations. This interception, copying, recording and disclosure of our data is a means to retroactively police the whole population. We are citizens, not suspects.
Conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, has echoed those statements today in a scathing release on its website. Writes Chris Berg of the plan:
The federal government’s proposed mandatory data retention scheme will be repressive and expensive. It is a fundamental threat to all Australians’ privacy and online freedoms."
Mandatory data retention treats all Australians as suspected criminals, storing away records of their internet activities just in case, in the future, they are accused of criminal activity.
Far from a targeted anti-terrorism measure, data retained under the government’s policy will be available for any law enforcement agency pry into.
Despite these concerns, Coalition government heavyweights reportedly authorised the scheme in the interest of fighting home-grown terror threats. Spy agencies and police forces from various states and levels have been looking for a data retention scheme for a number of years to help in solving tough crimes.
We'll now have to wait and see what the data retention plan looks like when it's drafted in the form of an amendment to the Telecommunications Interception Act. [Daily Telegraph]