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Australia to retain telecommunications metadata

Law coming later this year, source of cash for necessary kit TBD

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Australia will enact laws that compel telecommunications providers to retain metadata about their customers' online activities for two years.

Attorney-General George Brandis today indicated that the laws have been approved, conceptually, and that legislation will emerge later in 2014 and come into effect not long afterwards.

But Brandis also said “the question of the cost is something the government is in discussion about with the telcos concerned”. That's a reference to the fact that telcos worry that storing metadata will require many millions of dollars of investment, as the law is expected to result in many petabytes of data being retained by carriers whose customer lists stretch into the millions.

While cloud storage is advanced as one way to cut those costs, many observers worry that having data traverse public networks increases the already-substantial risk that criminals will find the data cache an asset worthy of attack. Observers also feel that telcos are hardly paragons of security excellence, and that storing data on their premises also represents risk.

The announcement of the data retention laws came at a press conference featuring Brandis, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. All three attended because the focus of the event was national security. Bishop announced new powers to suspend Australians' passports and Brandis mentioned numerous counter-terrorism initiatives.

Data retention was positioned as one item in a suite of measures to defend Australia, especially from Australians who travel to fight in foreign wars and return radicalised and with the intent to commit terrorist acts on local soil.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten did not condemn the data retention proposal, but said “it is most important that in the pursuit of national security we do not treat ordinary Australians as criminals.”

“There is great complexity in storing data on 23 million Australians. We need to get the balance right to ensure privacy.” ®

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