Ever since the discussion around a mandatory data retention scheme was resurrected by the Government, questions have circled over whether telcos would be asked to store more information on customers than they already had. According to testimony from Vodafone Australia this morning, it looks like the company is already capturing something that looks like it could be helpful to law enforcement agencies in the name of customer service.
Vodafone Australia's Matthew Lobb, General Manager Industry Strategy and Public Policy for the telco, is speaking before the Senate Inquiry into a revision of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access Act) right now. In his testimony, Lobb told Senators that Vodafone's customer service team is working on a new system that will track customers to give them a better look at their data usage.
Vodafone's new system, currently in development, would generate specific customer IDs and attach them to accounts. Those customer IDs would then be linked to a new internal IP identifier to match up with the dynamic IP address, date stamp and even some content about what customers browsed to.
That data is currently being captured for a system that would bolster Vodafone's self-service capability to give customers a better look at where they use the most data on their plan. When asked why Vodafone would store this information, Lobb replied: "we think the majority of customers would appreciate knowing where they spend their data."
When pressed on what content would be stored by Greens' Senator Scott Ludlam, Lobb said that Vodafone could see the destination server that customers navigated to, but not what they did on that site.
"For example, if you accessed Facebook," Lobb said, "it would say that you accessed Facebook."
"But not the friends you Poked, for instance, while there?" quizzed the Senator.
"No," Lobb confirmed, adding: "We can see that you'd access the Sydney Morning Herald for example, but not the stories or sidebars."
Despite the fact that Vodafone is collecting what some would consider as content as well as metadata, Lobb said that there needs to be a discussion about how long certain data would be stored for national security purposes, and what sort of cost that would put on a carrier like Vodafone.
Vodafone currently stores its metadata for 90 days for commercial reasons, but if compelled to store it for two years for national security reasons would blow out the cost to "tens of millions of dollars". He broke the cost structure down into three areas of spend.
"What is going to be stored is a work in progress...[but] there are three components: the capability of having an IP identifier you can link to a customer. That's an emerging capability. The other is the storage of the data. we're talking several petabytes [1000 terabytes] per year.
Usage is doubling on mobiles, and the number of petabytes is increasing. [In terms of datacentre floor space required for storage] we're talking about several if not all university library scales of data. The biggest cost is the ability to access and analyse the data. That bit of analytics is where the highest cost are," he said.
Lobb's testimony comes just the day after the Senate passed laws that would essentially allow Aussie spy agency ASIO to spy on a significant number of internet users with a single warrant.