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Don't worry, your metadata is still totally private... sort of

The government has limited data retention laws, ruling out metadata use in civil cases. But your telcos still have to store that data for two years, so...

Attorney-General George Brandis has ruled out the use of metadata for civil legal cases.
CeBIT Australia, CC BY 2.0

As Australia faces a new future under mandatory data retention, the government has officially ruled out the use of metadata for civil cases.

Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield made the announcement in a joint statement today, confirming the government had "decided to leave in place existing restrictions on civil litigants accessing telecommunications data retained solely under the data retention scheme."

The announcement coincides with the deadline given to telecommunications companies to officially start implementing their metadata collection regimes, following an 18 month grace period after data retention laws were passed.

The question of metadata being used for civil cases has existed almost as long as the data retention debate in Australia.

Once telcos and ISPs started collecting and storing two years' worth of metadata on all their customers, opponents of the scheme warned civil litigants would soon want access to the data to pursue civil matters such as copyright infringement or matters in the family court.

While the AFP was quick to squash the rumours when the laws were being debated, the government quietly announced in December last year that the matter was still being reviewed.

But now it appears metadata for use in civil suits is off the table.

According to the Brandis-Fifield statement, the review found "there was insufficient reason to justify making exceptions to the restrictions imposed by the data retention legislation."

The review was conducted on the recommendation of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (to tie in with the April 13 deadline) and looked at the use of metadata for civil cases as well as privacy implications and the regulatory burden on telcos.