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Metadata retention laws introduced to parliament

ISPs and telcos could soon be required to retain customer metadata for two years, thanks to legislation introduced to parliament by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. But while Turnbull says the requirements are nothing new, the AFP has piracy in its sights.

AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis. Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

Malcolm Turnbull has today introduced a bill for mandatory data retention into parliament, requiring telcos and ISPs to retain telecommunications data for a period of two years.

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 [PDF] is the third and final piece of legislation in a suite of national security reforms, driven by the Coalition Government.

The first tranche of reforms passed in September (with opposition from a handful of crossbench senators), granting greater internet surveillance powers to law enforcement and ASIO, while the second 'Foreign Fighters' Bill passed through the Senate this week on its way to a vote in the House of Representatives.

This third bill will require ISPs and telecommunications carriers operating in Australia to retain a range of data, as stipulated in Part 1 of the amendments. This includes:

    the subscriber of a relevant service;

    an account relating to a relevant service;

    a telecommunications device relating to a relevant service...

    the source of a communication;

    the destination of a communication;

    the date, time and duration of a communication, or of its connection to a relevant service;

    the type of a communication, or a type of relevant service used in connection with a communication;

    the location of equipment, or a line, used in connection with a communication.

      Browsing history and 'surveillance' ruled out

      However, as Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull was at pains to explain when introducing the bill, the legislation includes a number of restrictions to rule out the collection of content data.

        "Service providers will not be required to retain the content or substance of any communication, including subject lines of emails or posts on social media sites," said Turnbull.

        "The act will expressly exclude a person's web-browsing history, and providers will not be required to keep detailed location records that could allow a person's movements to be tracked, akin to a surveillance device."

        The draft legislation includes clauses designed to clarify "beyond doubt that service providers are not required to keep information about telecommunications content...[or] subscribers' web browsing history".

        Metadata must be kept for two years after it comes into existence (for example, after a particular phone call), while subscriber, account and device information must be retained for two years after "the closure of the account to which the information or document relates".

        Who pays to 'protect the status quo'?

        Speaking about the legislation introduced today, Malcolm Turnbull said it does not provide law enforcement agencies or ASIO "with new access to data".

        "There's nothing new in...these agencies accessing metadata," he said. "This is a measure designed, in large measure, to protect the status quo.

        "[It's about] protecting the degradation of this resource which has been so important for law enforcement."

        While government agency access to metadata has previously come under fire (with agencies as diverse as local councils and the RSPCA able to make access requests), Turnbull said the new amendments would "strictly limit and indeed reduce" the number of enforcement agencies with the ability access to retained metadata. He also noted that access would be subject to "independent and comprehensive oversight".

        As far as the cost of such a data retention scheme, Turnbull also said the government would stump up some of the cash:

        "The government is committed to ongoing, good faith consultation with industry and expects to make a substantial contribution to both the cost of implementation and the operation of this scheme," he said.

        Policing 'illegal downloads'

        However, while Turnbull's focus was on limiting scope, AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin suggested that data retention could be used to police a number of crimes.

        "I haven't even touched on the other range of crimes," Commissioner Colvin said in a press conference after the bill was introduced, adding that policing "illegal downloads, piracy [and] cyber crimes" all relies on access to this data.

        "It [metadata] helps us establish networks...who are the groups, who are the communications between," he said.

        The bill will now be put before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, and debate has been adjourned until the House of Representatives next sits on November 24.

        Updated at 11.35 a.m. AEST: To include comments from Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin and further comments from Malcolm Turnbull.