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Government shelves controversial data retention scheme

Ben Grubb (via SMH) | June 25, 2013
A controversial "data retention" scheme that would have required Australians' internet and telephone activities to be stored for up to two years for law enforcement purposes has been shelved by the federal government.

A controversial "data retention" scheme that would have required Australians' internet and telephone activities to be stored for up to two years for law enforcement purposes has been shelved by the federal government.

The shelving came after an inquiry failed to recommend whether the scheme should go ahead.

The committee looking into the proposal - the most controversial among more than 40 others - as part of an inquiry into national security delivered its report on Monday.

Controversial: The suggested scheme to retain internet and telephone data.
Controversial: The suggested scheme to retain internet and telephone data. Photo: Reuters

After the report's release, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government would not pursue data retention legislation "at this time".

The government would now await further advice from the relevant agencies and a comprehensive consultation before proceeding further, he said.

Although the committee recommended ways a data retention scheme should be run, it said it was up to the government to decide whether it should be implemented.

Announcement: Attorney- General Mark Dreyfus.
Revoked for now: Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Photo: Eamon Gallagher

If the government decided later to pursue data retention, the report suggested it publish an exposure draft of any legislation and refer it to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security for examination.

The report said that if data retention was introduced, the government should reimburse providers for the cost of running it.

Data stored should be encrypted and stored for only two years maximum and not include web browsing histories. There should also be oversight of the agencies who accessed it.

Agencies which can now access such data from an internet or telephone provider - if it is available - include federal, state and territory police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Tax Office and organisations such as the RSPCA, Australia Post and even local councils. Almost 300,000 requests for such data were made in the 2011-12 financial year. This excluded ASIO's requests, which are not made public.

The government referred the data retention proposal to the committee last May to seek the views of the internet and telephone industry, the public and law enforcement. It said then that it had not yet formed a view on whether it should be implemented.

Most of those who made submissions to the inquiry did not support the proposal. The federal police and the Tax Office were among the few who did.

Information stored by a data retention scheme is often referred to as "metadata" and includes information about a telephone call made or received or a website visited, but not the content.

 

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