Telcos say data retention proposals 'gloriously ill-defined'

The telecom industry has slammed data retention proposals by the government at an Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) conference today in Sydney. Officials from the Communications Alliance, Telstra, Optus, iiNet and Vodafone all expressed misgivings when asked about a parliamentary inquiry into reforms in national security legislation.

One of the most contentious aspects of the proposals includes "tailored data retention periods for up to two years for parts of a data set", with every Internet users' entire Web history logged and stored for up to two years. The government has said the proposal is important for law enforcement.

The data retention proposal is “gloriously ill-defined in the discussion paper,” said Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton. “It talks about the potential desirability of maintaining a data set for a period of two years. A data set can be an inch or a mile wide.” Depending on the breadth of data to be collected, there could be high costs for carriers to comply, he said, and there are privacy implications for customers.

Stanton also questioned the need to hold data for two years. European data suggests that law enforcement generally uses data that’s less than six months old, he said. There should also be “sensible restrictions on who can access the data,” he said.

The proposal is too broadly written, said Optus regulatory affairs vice president, David Epstein. “These are undoubtedly very, very costly proposals if implemented as described," he said.

“Some of that data we simply don’t capture at the moment,” and a government mandate to do so would be costly, said Telstra group managing director of corporate affairs, Tony Warren.

“What they are suggesting is extreme,” said iiNet chief regulatory officer, Steve Dalby. “We’re not particularly keen as a private company ... to be an entity of the state and do intelligence on their behalf,” he said. Dalby predicted the government will ultimately pare back on the amount of data to be collected.

Vodafone wants to help law enforcement but at the same time wants to protect customers’ privacy, said Vodafone general manager of public policy, Matthew Lobb.

“This is a complex issue,” Warren said. Customers want Telstra to protect their privacy, but at the same time protect their children and banking details, he said. “I think we have to have people opting in and put the customer in control of these things.”

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