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Call for data retention rethink

Briefs

Cite as: March 2015 89 (3) LIJ, p.14

The mandatory data retention Bill is invasive and a threat to individual privacy and should be scrapped or at least amended to include safeguards, according to the LIV. 

In its submission to the Parliamentary Joint Intelligence and Security Committee (www.liv.asn.au/data-retention), the LIV identified more than 30 serious concerns in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014.

LIV president Katie Miller said the Bill burdened private companies with keeping files on phone and internet users in case law enforcement agencies need information at some time in the following two years.

“Who you called and emailed, where you were when you called or emailed, where they were when you called or emailed, how much you downloaded and at what times,” she said.

Ms Miller expressed concern over the failure of the proposed legislation to define the data set and how it will be managed. “Will it include the subject line of the email? I can’t tell you because the Bill does not identify what data must be kept – it’s a matter for regulations. This information will be collected every day, every week, every month and kept for two years. What happens after the two years? I can’t tell you because the Bill is silent on this and many other questions.”

In the past five years, state and federal police (excluding NSW) have made 720,614 requests for access to historical telecommunications data. Almost half of all requests came from Victoria Police with 310,305 requests.

Under the proposed legislation, law enforcement agencies would have access to a far greater source of data without judicial oversight.

“The data collected about each and every one of us will tell a rich story about who we are and who we associate with – our health information, political affiliations and workplace can all be ascertained from this information. Law enforcement agencies will be able to access this data by filling out a form – no warrant will be required,” Ms Miller said.

“Is such a vast database necessary for and proportionate to the Bill’s stated purpose? The only thing I can say with any certainty is that this scheme will cost Australian citizens – it will cost us in our tax dollars, our phone and internet bills, our privacy, our freedoms of expression and association, our free press.”

Some safeguards recommended by the LIV if the Bill is not withdrawn include: defining the data set in the primary legislation; identifying the agencies which can access telecommunications data in the legislation; requiring judicial oversight on access to telecommunications data; reducing data retention periods to what is strictly necessary and proportionate.

The Law Council of Australia has also expressed concern over the Bill, calling for it to be withdrawn, amended and released as exposure draft legislation for public consultation.

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