Australian Data Retention Stalls

Data retention has cropped up from time to time. This time, we’re noticing its appearance in Australia where it apparently hit a roadblock recently. The terms of the data retention policy has reportedly been knocked back.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Back in 2010, we noted that data retention in Europe was deemed unlawful, striking a major blow to proponents of data retention at the ISP level. While it may have been considered dead in Europe at that point, that hasn’t stopped such a policy from reappearing in Australia.

Delimiter, an Australian technology news website, is reporting that the Australian government has knocked back the terms of data retention. The Australian data retention policy, or “OzLog” as it’s also evidently referred to, was slammed by the Australian Pirate Party as the governments war on privacy.

The OzLog would compel ISPs to retain customer information for a period of time ranging from days to years. The data would include web browsing history for the purposes of examination by law enforcement. From Delimiter:

Instead of law enforcement agencies being forced to request multiple different types of interception warrants, the legislation would be modified to allow authorities to request a new more comprehensive centralised type of warrant with multiple powers. The interception regime — which allows authorities to request Internet service providers and telcos to intercept the communications of their customers — would be extended to some types of service providers not currently covered by the legislation.

Provisions under the ASIO Act for the intelligence agency to request warrants are to be modernised and streamlined, and the agency is to gain the power to disrupt a target computer for the purposes of accessing the information on it — or even to access other third-party computers on the way to the target machine. The Government is also interested in establishing an offence which would allow Australians to be charged with failing to assist in decrypting encrypted communications. Also on the cards is a data retention protocol which would require ISPs, for example, to retain data on their customers for up to two years. This is an idea which has proven controversial in Australia over the past several years.

Unfortunately for the government, they are now being told to go back to the drawing board:

The rejection is bad timing for Roxon, who wrote today in The Australian about her pending trip to the US for further meetings with US Department of Homeland Security head Janet “you cannot live free if you live in fear” Napolitano, who was recently in Australia.

Roxon’s reference to the committee included some proposals to strengthen privacy protections and streamline administrative procedures relating to warrants, which are separately identified as being supported by the government, but also invited consideration of wide-reaching expansions to the powers of security and intelligence agencies to: increase powers of interception; make it easier for ASIO to break into computers and computer networks, including those of third parties not targeted in warrants; facilitating the prosecution of anyone who names an ASIO officer; and, most controversially, a long-considered proposal from departmental bureaucrats to impose a two-year data retention directive on ISPs to record and store all Australians’ internet usage for government monitoring.

One problematic but easily remedied issue about the draft terms of reference was the reporting date of July 31, giving the committee just 10 weeks to conduct full-scale public inquiries into major changes to several pieces of national security legislation.

Apparently, the government representative was trying to use the “underwear bomber” as a pretext for this expansion for surveillance powers. Personally, I fail to see the connection between someone strapping bombs to themselves on an airplane and the concept of “we must monitor internet activity on a massive scale”. Of course, as we’ve seen in the copyright debate, just about any excuse, no matter how debunked or completely misguided and scientifically unsound, apparently justifies an encroachment on civil liberties.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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