Ozlog: Government pushes ahead with data retention plans

The federal government is pushing ahead with reforms that could see consumers' information kept on file for up to two years by internet service providers (ISPs).

This could include the data retention of personal internet browsing information which intelligence agencies could access in the event of criminal activities by individuals or organisations.

Attorney-general Nicola Roxon told 774 ABC Melbourne last week that she has referred the matter to the joint intelligence committee, as well as other reforms to four pieces of legislation: the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979; the Telecommunications Act 1997; the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979; and the Intelligence Services Act 2001.

While she said the government is still considering whether to pursue the data retention reforms, she admitted police and intelligence agencies would like to see them go ahead “so that if someone then comes to the notice of security agencies or the police, that you'd be able to go back in certain circumstances to pull out that information”.

“Now obviously that is quite an ambitious and contentious proposal.”

Roxon said a parliamentary committee on the topic would allow the public to be involved in the discussion, with the government to decide whether to pursue the reforms based on the committee’s findings.

Kim Heitman, secretary of Electronic Frontiers Australia, told Computerworld Australia that while the public will have a chance to comment on the reforms, the rest of the talks will be held secretly.

“The government ruthlessly uses the [freedom of information] FOI exemptions and confidentiality agreements to lock the public out of discussions on security, copyright infringement or new privacy laws. This pervasive secrecy on internet matters is a government failure and the genesis of bad legislation,” he said.

Heitman believes the reforms would be “lazy law enforcement” and said collecting and storing every mouse click and download of every user for two years would culminate in a staggering amount of data.

“While the hasty grab for this data by law enforcement agencies is bad – experience shows that these powers will be abused and officials corrupted - the availability of this honey-pot to identity thieves, malicious and criminal intrusion or careless release of sensitive personal information is a statistical certainty,” he said.

“Crooks and terrorists will just use encryption or secure services to provide nothing but meaningless data - it's Mr or Mrs Average whose lives could be turned upside down by data breaches or bureaucratic spying.”

Heitman also pointed out it would be expensive for internet service providers to implement and maintain data retention at this level as it needs to be properly stored and possibly backed-up and duplicated. The law could also extend from not only to computers but also to smartphones and tablets, he said.

While Roxon said the government will assess how much the initiative would cost and what impact it would have on privacy issues, Heitman believes the costs will ultimately be passed onto consumers as an “added [insult] to a privacy injury”.

Roxon announced the review into national security legislation 4 May this year, asking the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to consider security reforms through public hearings. The proposed reforms are in response to telcos deleting data on a more regular basis.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security will report to the government later this year.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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