Amidst a tough week for the Federal Government, Prime Minister Tony Abbott thought it might be a good idea to come out and try to sell the data retention legislation. Here’s what our Prime Minister defines “metadata” as.
Speaking from the Australian Federal Police HQ in Melbourne, Prime Minister Tony Abbott waded into the tricky waters of technology and defined metadata thusly:
It’s data about data. It’s the data that the system generates. [Data] that you the user generate is different and that will require a warrant [to access]. The police need general access on authorisation to the metadata.
What we’re asking the telecommunications companies to do is keep the data that they generate. We’re asking them to keep doing what they used to do which they’re not doing because of the change in technology.
Abbott also briefly addressed the concerns about the cost of a metadata retention scheme, basically saying that the industry needs to suck it up, seeing as how they can afford it:
We’re getting some work done on [cost]. Even if the costs are in the order of a few hundred million, this is a $40 billion sector. The costs involved are comparatively modest, we the government are prepared to work with the sector to ensure we provide our fair share of the costs.
The definition of metadata given by PM Abbott today is certainly a better answer than his Attorney-General, George Brandis, gave.
When metadata was resurrected by the Coalition, Brandis to Sky News where he described metadata as the information on the front of a mailing envelope.
The interview was so bad that the journalist interviewing the AG won a Walkley award for it.
Today’s press conference also saw the PM use the attacks in Sydney’s Martin Place as well as the murder of journalists at French magazine Charlie Hebdo as a justification for metadata retention.
“From the siege to Charlie Hebdo, there are a whole range of people in our country who want to do us harm, and it’s absolutely vital that we maintain the capacity to trace, detect and protect the Australian public against all kinds of crime. This government will not rest until our community is safe as it can be, and part of that is getting data retention through the Parliament.”
Data retention is currently being scrutinised by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), which will hand down a report on the proposals at the end of February. The Prime Minister clearly expects the outcome to be positive from the report, saying that as soon as it is handed down he wants Parliament to act on it.
“Once the committee’s report has been given to us, it’s important that we crack on,” he said during the press conference.
Questions raised by the PJCIS this week include whether or not a metadata collection scheme can be easily dodged by the use of overseas providers like Google and Microsoft, or through the use of public hotspots.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told the assembled media this morning that even if overseas providers slip through the data retention net, everyone still leaves a “digital fingerprint” of metadata that will be collected.
“Even if you are using a Gmail account — an over-the-top-provider from an overseas company — you still need to make a footprint where you connect to the internet. This is the basic identifier about who connected and where,” he said.
Commissioner Colvin looked to water down public concern over sweeping metadata collection, saying he didn’t share the concerns of some that the proposed scheme would be too broad.
“There’s a difference between what is possible and what is permissable with this legislation. This legislation confines [the scheme] to information that’s critical to law enforcement. We’re working with industry on what that data set looks like. Industry have been very responsive but I don’t want to preempt the [PJCIS]. [Metadata] will be quite specific. I don’t share the concerns that it’s as broad or ambiguous as people are saying,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want his officers to “rely on luck” to get the information they need to crack cases.
We eagerly await the release of the PJCIS’ report at the end of February, and we’ll bring you all the information as it happens on this important legislation.