March 19, 2015

Metadata Retention

The metadata retention debate continues, with the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 (the Bill) again tabled for discussion by Minister for Communications, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP.

If passed, telecommunications providers will be required to retain customer records and “metadata” for a minimum of two years. Metadata includes the time, date and location of calls and emails, including the source IP address.  As part of the retention, the Bill proposes that the metadata is to be encrypted so that content (such as actual calls, messages, emails, PIN numbers and passwords) will not be accessible without a warrant.

The proposed metadata retention scheme is intended to:

  • ensure that Australian enforcement and security agencies have access to the information necessary to perform their law enforcement and national security functions; and
  • standardise the types of telecommunications data collected and retained by service providers to address variations in business practices, both across those providers and over time.

The Government maintains that the implementation of the scheme will be central to investigations regarding organised crime, counter-espionage, cyber-security and criminal investigations.

The scheme is not intended to extend existing powers of enforcement and security agencies to access telecommunications data, however, it will allow the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to join other crime fighting agencies in accessing stored metadata without requiring a warrant.

One major criticism of the bill is that the term “metadata” is not defined.  This could allow for the capture and use of more information than intended.  The Law Institute of Victoria has suggested that the metadata will reveal more than just timing of calls since metadata is capable of capturing the story of an individual’s life including places they frequent, who they vote for and even their sexual orientation.

The Bill is expected to pass through parliament with bipartisan support.