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New Doubts As Turnbull Launches Data Retention Bill

Legislation dictating that telcos retain telecommunications metadata for two years, has been introduced to Parliament by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull – but many doubts swirl around how the data may be used.

In particular, Australian Federal Police chief Andrew Colvin told journalists the metadata could be used to identify people downloading pirated copies of movies or TV shows – a claim later denied by Turnbull.

“Australia’s law enforcement and national security agencies have advised the Government that their investigative capabilities are at risk of being significantly degraded,” said Turnbull. 

“It is the role of Government to ensure that our law enforcement and security agencies have access to the tools they need to do their job. There is a real risk that if we do not act, our agencies will ‘go blind’ and their ability to investigate criminal conduct and threats to our national security will be diminished.”

The plan has drawn the ire of both ISPs and citizens concerned about the costs and privacy implications in the ill-defined area of metadata collection. ISPs, including iiNet and Optus, have warned that the cost of storing the mandated data could cost them more than $200 million.

Greens MP Scott Ludlam said the Government’s move would trigger a “very serious campaign” against the scheme.

“We have been warning the Government for months not to cross the line. They have refused to listen to the evidence provided by civil society groups, the telco industry and by political voices across the spectrum,” he said in a press conference.

“We plan on fighting mandatory data retention, which will impose a surveillance tax on the entire Australian population, and which will impose on industry an obligation that it doesn’t want and hasn’t sought, to trap and store material on every device held by every man, woman and child in this country.”

Turnbull suggested a draft dataset could be released, along with the bill, to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) for review and public inquiry.

This committee, chaired by Liberal MP Dan Tehan, and includes Opposition members Stephen Conroy, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek and John Faulkner, will review exactly what is meant by metadata, which remains unclear in the legislation.
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