EFA hits out at government's data retention plans

"It appears that the government is seeking now to use the cover of concerns about returning jihadists to again significantly expand surveillance powers," says EFA's treasurer, Daemon Singer

Civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) has voiced fears that the government is playing up concerns about terrorism to justify increases to its surveillance powers through a mandatory date retention scheme.

The EFA was responding to media reports that Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s National Security Committee has signed off on the quick implementation of a mandatory data retention scheme.

“Rushing through new surveillance powers in the context of an apparently imminent threat is the exact opposite of how public policy-making should be conducted,” EFA’s treasurer, Daemon Singer, said in a statement.

“There have been dozens of extensions to surveillance powers since 2001 and, if today’s media reports are correct, it appears that the government is seeking now to use the cover of concerns about returning jihadists to again significantly expand surveillance powers that will adversely affect the privacy and presumption of innocence of all Australians.”

Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed last month that the government was eyeing the introduction of a data retention scheme for telcos, but it was not included in the first tranche of national security-related legislation introduced by the government.

A mandatory data retention scheme would mean telecommunication companies and internet service providers would be required to retain records of people’s telephone and Internet communications for two years.

EFA said not only a data retention scheme would compromise people’s right to privacy but also would impose technical and security challenges, as well as high costs for telcos and ISPs that would be passed down onto consumers.

“The burden of implementing such a scheme would also result in diminished competition within the telecommunications sector as smaller providers will be less able to cope with the demands of complying with such a scheme,” EFA said.

Appearing late last month before a Senate inquiry examining potential reform of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, telco industry figures warned of the high cost of implementing and maintaining a data retention scheme.

Read more: Protesters rise up against mandatory data retention

iiNet has previously estimated it would cost around $60 million to establish and operate a data retention scheme in the first two years. However, Dalby told the hearing that the ever-increasing amount of metadata and the number of networked devices means that despite dropping storage prices the cost would be "more in the order of $100 million for that first two year period of data collection".

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association and the Communications Alliance have estimated that establishing such a scheme could cost the industry $500 million.

In December 2013, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam sought to get the support from the then Labor government for a review of the Act, following his call for a ‘Get a Warrant’ bill in June 2013. The report of the TIA review is due around 27 August.

In September 2013, EFA endorsed 13 privacy principles that protect the privacy and human rights of citizens when it comes to Internet spying and surveillance. At the time, it received 270 signatories from organisations around the world.

Follow Rebecca Merrett on Twitter: @Rebecca_Merrett

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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Tags surveillanceElectronic Frontiers Australia (EFA)mandatory data retention

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