MOVES TO MONITOR COMMUNICATIONS DATA in Australia have been blocked, for now.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), security agencies downunder have been clamouring to get their hands on communications data belonging to Australian citizens, but have been thwarted.
"Australia's security agencies have been pushing for the mandatory retention of the communications data of every citizen. If implemented, this policy would require private companies to keep communications metadata of all customers for two years. Essentially, it treats every person as a criminal suspect," said the EFF in a statement.
"Yesterday, a parliamentary committee issued a report declining to recommend data retention and strongly criticizing the government for failing to adequately explain and justify its proposal. In the wake of the report, the governing Labor Party announced it will not pursue data retention before the next election. So data retention in Australia has been defeated, for now."
According to the EFF Australians are firmly attached to their privacy rights, and 99 percent of them were opposed the idea of government data retention in a poll last summer.
Their concerns were heard by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, and yesterday the committee delivered its report (PDF). It said that it could not support data retention plans that would store communications information for as long as two years.
Data would have included IP addresses, telephone numbers, the duration of calls and location information.
"The potential data retention regime attracted a large amount of criticism and comment from organisations and concerned individuals. These organisations and individuals generally considered any potential data retention regime a significant risk to both the security of their information, and their privacy. In addition to these general comments, the Committee received a large volume of form letter correspondence," said the report.
"Conversely, the data retention regime received a high level of support from law enforcement and national security agencies. These agencies largely argued that data retention was necessary for them to maintain their current capabilities into the future."
Opponents includes the Australian Pirate Party, broadband outfit Iinet, the Law Council of Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre and The Australian Institute of Public Affairs.
The Victoria Privacy Commissioner Dr Anthony Bendall, is quoted as likening the plans to those of a police state, while Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said that effectively it placed a guilty mark on all internet users. ISPs including Vodafone chimed in to speak up about the scale and cost of the plans.
There is support from local law enforcement agencies, but it has the minority of the quoted voices. The committee did not move in its favour.
"A mandatory data retention regime raises fundamental privacy issues, and is arguably a significant extension of the power of the state over the citizen. No such regime should be enacted unless those privacy and civil liberties concerns are sufficiently addressed," it said.
The committee added that if the plans were to go ahead then they should be reported on annually and operate in the open. µ