A new law that has come into effect today, requires large amounts of telecommunications metadata to be retained for a period of two years by Australian telecommunications companies.
This information includes data on who text or called each other and for how long. This is in addition to location, the volume of data exchanged, email IP data and device information. The law does not require firms retain a user’s web browsing history. Some of this information was already being retained, however the new law expands upon this.
The law also makes it easier for authorities to access these records. “No responsible government can sit by while those who protect us lose access to vital information, particularly in the current high threat environment,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in a joint statement with Attorney-General George Brandis.
The government has stressed that the data retained is only metadata and does not include the content of the calls and messages themselves.
What are the concerns?
Opponents state that while the content of messages and conversations are not included, the metadata paints a detailed picture of what they are doing, which would be impacting on a person’s privacy. They also point out that while useful in terrorism and child abuse investigations, the new rules also allow for data to be requested for much smaller crimes. Typically, under the new rules, gathering this information will not require a warrant.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden weighed in on the new laws, stating that:
“The impacts of metadata can’t be overstated, they are collecting data on everyone regardless of wrongdoing. When you have metadata, it’s a proxy for content, so when politicians split hairs about metadata you should be very sceptical.”