Politicians and industry rise up against 'unjustified' metadata bill

While the major telcos are keeping out of the crossfire, iiNet has joined a number of politicians in voicing opposition to the Government's proposed data retention laws.

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Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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Claire Reilly
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While Australia's major telcos have reserved judgement on the Government's proposed data retention legislation, iiNet has joined a chorus of cross bench politicians and internet advocates in slamming the "Orwellian" aspects of the bill.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is the latest to come out in opposition to the so-called 'metadata bill', saying the government does not have the argument to embark on "the biggest mass surveillance program in our nation's history".

"I don't want to sound alarmist, but some fundamental principles we have enjoyed, and largely taken for granted, are about to be lost if we don't act now," Senator Xenophon said in a post on his website.

"Put simply, every call you take, every online move you make, the government will be watching you," he wrote. "And maybe you don't care if this current government knows so much about you. But what about future governments? Can we really be sure they will be as worthy of our trust?"

Xenophon said the Government's proposed laws "treat every single Australian, man, woman or child like a potential criminal," echoing the sentiments of his Senate colleague, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

"Data retention will impose a surveillance tax on the entire Australian population and turn the telecommunications industry into unwilling appendages to enforcement agencies, tracking and storing material on every device held by every man, woman and child in Australia," said Senator Ludlam.

"The government still does not have a definition of metadata, and I think it's extraordinary that after six years of pushing this proposal they weren't able to table a definition of metadata -- it doesn't appear in the act."

As well as criticising the lack of clarity on the definition of metadata, Pirate Party President Brendan Molloy said the Government had failed to make a case for why the move towards data retention was necessary.

"There is no justification provided as to why this data needs to be stored for every person in this country," said Molloy. "Targeted surveillance with a warrant is already possible under current legislation. No exposure draft was provided because the Government knows that this legislation has no support and would be dead in the water if any real public consultation were to be undertaken."

Industry response

While the political response to the bill (outside the two major parties) has been that of condemnation, the major telcos are watching their words when it comes to criticising the bill, with both Telstra and Optus offering tentative support for the tabled legislation.

However, vocal opponent of mandatory data retention iiNet has raised major concerns about the reforms.

iiNet Chief Regulatory Officer Steve Dalby said that while the ISP was "encouraged by a move away from some more Orwellian aspects" of the proposed legislation, there was no explanation of why existing laws were insufficient and there was "no urgency" for the bill to be passed.

"This is now at least the fourth data set of a retention regime floated by the Government, and given this type of confusion we need to take a deep breath, step back and have a good look at this new bill," said Dalby.

"At a first reading, the devil is certainly in the detail of the proposed bill. In particular, there is a need for clear definition of terms, including what type of personal information may be captured by this proposed legislation. It needs to be openly reviewed so the Australian public can understand the true scope of this proposal."

The other major telcos were less definitive in their comments on the proposed laws, welcoming changes to the bill that appeared to incorporate industry feedback (including provisions that prevent the tracking of website browsing history), though largely reserving judgement until further consultation takes place.

Telstra said it welcomed the move to clarify the industry's data retention obligations, saying that while mandatory data retention would "go beyond Telstra's current business practices," the telco was "encouraged" by the Government's offer to contribute towards the cost of implementation.

Optus said the Government had taken a "balanced approach to managing the challenges of community security with effective safeguards," saying it was pleased the bill "reflects views put to the government by telecommunications carriers".

Vodafone declined to comment.