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Australian mandatory data retention - the next mining boom

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Published on: Thursday, September 24, 2015

By Alisdair Blackman

On 13th October (less than three weeks away) the mandatory data retention scheme in Australia will go live.

Few have really taken the Government to task on this wide-sweeping change and in my view, infringement on our civil liberties.

Astounded by the seeming lack of public awareness around this change, I found only a few articles that stressed the importance of this issue. Out of the content I was able to find, a profound article written by Quentin Dempster (a journalist I hold in high regard) in late August 2015 detailed what information the Government will and won't collect from your internet service providers (ISPs).

So, here are the facts as outlined by Dempster. From the 13th October the Government will be able to access the following:

For emails

  • Who you’ve emailed
  • Date and time you sent an email
  • Attachments (data volumes)

For Phone

  • Phone number of everyone you called
  • Missed numbers
  • 1800 numbers
  • Number of everyone you SMS’d
  • Time, date of calls and SMSs
  • Duration of calls
  • Your rough location at time of call or SMS

Online activity and social media

  • Your IP address
  • Time and duration of your web connections
  • The law does not require carriers to retain 'destination' IP addresses (your web browsing history), but a carrier may do so
  • The volume of your uploads and downloads
  • Location and geographical data


So as of the 13th October 2015, the Government shall know:

  • Who you are talking with
  • What about
  • Your IP address
  • Your location


Armed with this [your] information, there will be a large number of government agencies that will have the authority to access this information without a warrant which is to include:

  • ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation)
  • AFP (Australian Federal Police)
  • All state and territory police forces
  • The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity
  • Australian Crime Commission
  • Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission
  • ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission)
  • NSW Crime Commission
  • NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption
  • NSW Police Integrity Commission
  • Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission
  • West Australian Corruption and Crime Commission
  • South Australian Independent Commission Against Corruption
  • Any other agency the Attorney General publicly declares


Law enforcement and Intelligence agencies will have immediate, warrantless and accumulating access to all of this information. Anyone, be they ISP, telco etc who opposes the collection, or surrendering of this information can be penalised up to $2 million for non-compliance.

Baker & McKenzie’s Patrick Fair told Fairfax Media a person’s metadata can be reviewed at any time by agencies without that person’s knowledge and it might be used for or against you in court.

Yet another precarious issue is one around the security and safety of this stored information. Hackers will likely see this data store as a gold mine. What safeguards are proposed/shall be put in place?

Just to put all of this into perspective, metadata requests are not new. Between 2013-2014 in Australia, there were more than 330,000 requests for access to metadata on Australian citizens.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Department said metadata was a vital tool used in “virtually every counter-terrorism, organised crime, counter-espionage, cyber-security, child exploitation and serious crime investigation”.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam put it quite succinctly when rallying against the metadata laws in Parliament back in March. “This is a bill to entrench a system of passive mass surveillance. It is corrosive of the very freedoms that governments are elected to protect, and it has no place in a democracy. And yet, it is a democratically elected parliament that [has enacted it].”

Early this year, the details of over 10,000 Australian citizens were forcibly passed onto Dallas Buyers Club LLC's rights holders in an effort to allow the rights holders to seek damages for the illegal download of the movie from 'pirates'. Well, we are the rights holders of our data so, where is our recourse to exercise our rights to privacy and, more particularly, common decency?


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