Australia launches mass data retention under new law

Australian parliament passes controversial data law to access large amounts of telecommunication and internet metadata

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A man types on a computer keyboard in this Feb. 28, 2013 illustration file picture.

Australian government on Tuesday passed a controversial data law which requires telecommunication companies and internet service providers to keep text and call data of their customers for two years.  

Australian authorities said that the communication companies are already retaining the data of the clients on an ad hoc basis, while new law just widens the scope of it.   

Internet providers in the country started to record detailed online activities of the clients under the new law, following their email or chat conversations apart from their content.

Foreign platforms, like Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook and Skype are not subjects of the track.

The controversial law sparked debate between Australian citizens, opposition figures and the government.

Some opponents of the law pointed at the effects of the new law which can violate the civil liberties or cause potential flaws in the scheme.

They also added that recording metadata provides a detailed picture of what people are doing, even if the content of messages are not included.

Edward Snowden, former CIA employee who leaked classified information from the United States National Security Agency in 2013 also tweeted on Monday to draw attention to the new law.

However, a spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis said that law enforcement and intelligence agencies need to use new methods to fight against the crime effectively.

“Metadata is the basic building block in nearly every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and organised and major crime investigation,” he said.

“It is also essential for child abuse and child pornography offences that are frequently carried out online,” he added.

He also said that more than $130 million has been allocated by the government to contribute to the upfront capital costs of the scheme.   

The multi-million dollar scheme has also come under fire for its expense, which will be partially borne by the government.

Australian Green Party Senator Scott Ludlam tweeted that it was "absurdly expensive and complex for ISPs to implement, trivially easy for anyone to defeat."

Australia is not the only country which collects metadata of its citizens.

Telecommunication companies in the United Kingdom keep metadata for a minimum of one year under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, although the high court issued that the some parts of the act were unlawful in July.

In the United States, a court ruled in August that the National Security Agency (NSA) could continue to retain phone metadata, although Congress changed the law earlier in the year to allow phone companies to keep their own databases, which the government can query.

TRTWorld and agencies