The Government is on a massive sales drive this month, trying to convince the Australian people that a mandatory metadata retention scheme is a good idea, despite the fact that the country's most senior federal policeman said his agency would use it to chase pirates. Attorney General George Brandis went on national television last night to try and correct the record.
When the metadata scheme was unveiled at a press conference held by Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Attorney General, George Brandis and Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin, one fairly regrettable thing was said by the Commissioner: once we have this data, we can use it to prosecute pirates.
Ever since then, Turnbull and Brandis have been backpedalling as quickly as possible.
On the ABC's Q&A last night, Brandis kicked the backpedalling into high gear. The short version? If you're a pirate, don't panic about data retention.
Brandis said that the metadata retention scheme will only be used to target criminals, not civil infringers of copyright. The AG added that Commissioner Colvin misspoke at the initial press conference.
[Metadata laws] can't be and they won't be [used to catch pirates]. Commissioner [Andrew] Colvin has corrected his remarks...he's indicated that that's not what he meant.
The mandatory metadata retention regime applies only to the most serious crime. To terrorism, to international and transnational crime, to paedophelia where it has been particularly useful as an investigative tool. Only to crime and only to the highest levels of crime.
Breaches of copyright is a civil wrong. Civil wrongs have got nothing to do with this scheme.
This isn't to say that Brandis isn't interested in catching pirates. That's not the case at all.
AG Brandis is not only the architect of new laws to retain metadata, he's also working on the largest anti-piracy scheme in Australia's history.
What's more likely is that the anti-piracy scheme will be used to catch pirates, as well as other industry-standard practices used overseas already.
Turnbull at the initial press conference attempted to water down the Commissioner's statements, giving insights into how rights holders pursue pirates. At the time, this is how the Communications Minister described it:
A lot of internet piracy, downloading and sharing material is done by way of file-sharing, but the way that works is a torrent stream is created in which there are a whole number of computers with their own IPs that are sharing this pirated content. What the rights owners do is they use different programs to participate in the swarm and identify the IP addresses of the computers infringing copyright, and then they seek from the ISPs via subpoena the account details of the holder. They do this pretty much in real-time so the two year holding of data doesn’t make a big difference in terms of copyright infringement, they’re dealing with the here and now. The police commissioners interests tend to be much longer. It is relevant and it happens all the time.