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Proposed Changes to Australia's Data Retention Laws Likely to Be Costly

Susanna Sharpe

Australians may lose their right to privacy online if the attorney-general has her way.

Nicola Roxon's discussion paper is before a parliamentary inquiry. Proposals include storing the social media and other online and telecommunications data of Australians for two years, under a major overhaul of Australia's surveillance laws.

The government passed a toned down version of these proposals last week, giving police the power to force telcos to store data on customers for a specific period while a warrant is sought. The changes mean Australia can join the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, which allows for sharing of information across borders in cybercrime investigations.

If they became law, Ms Roxon's latest proposals would give Australia's intelligence agencies and law enforcement some of the greatest spy powers in the developed world. As well as storing web and telecommunications data (including data stored in the cloud and social networks) for two years, the proposed changes would also give authorities the right to commandeer the computer of an uninvolved third party if necessary to access a suspect's computer. If passed, these changes would be even more extreme than the European Union's controversial Data Retention Directive, which requires all data to be stored for six months. It follows attempts earlier this year by the UK and Canada to tighten up their online spy laws.

The proposals have the alarm bells ringing of telcos and privacy campaigners, with financial and costs to privacy of greatest concern.

A joint statement from Australia's telecommunications industry groups the AMTA and Communications Alliance predicted it would cost up to $AUD700 million to store data for two years. They said it should be up to the government and not the consumer to cover this expense. One of Australia's largest broadband providers iiNet said it is concerned about the government having so much power over how the telcos operate. Concerns have also been raised that personal data would be even more vulnerable to hacking and the Institute of Public Affairs is concerned that mandatory data retention laws treat internet users as guilty until proven innocent.

Do you think the Australian proposals are extreme? Or do the benefits outweigh the cost and risk to personal data? Please contribute to the discussion in the comments section below.

By Susanna Sharpe, Social Media Manager. More blog posts from Susanna Sharpe can also be read here.

Related topics: Cybercrime, Internet Governance, Law, Privacy, Security

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