Govt accused of 'gaming' data retention debate

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Extreme proposal paves way for compromise.

ISP iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby has accused the Federal Government of "gaming" telcos and voters with an overly broad brush approach to data retention in the hope of eliciting a compromise.

Speaking in a panel session at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network's (ACCAN) national conference, Dalby criticised the current data retention proposals as "extreme".

The proposal seeks to increase Australian law enforcement powers by requiring telcos to store subscriber traffic records for up to two years.

Dalby singled out some of the definitions of the types of data to be retained, which internet service providers have been granted access to via a dataset controlled by the federal Attorney-General's department.

"There are some scary definitions," he said.

"In conversations with ASIO and the Federal Police ... we've said, 'This dataset says you want really to track everything on everybody all the time and keep a record of it for two years'.

"They say, 'No no no, we're not really after browsing history', and yet the dataset says they want the destination IP address.

"For me, that's like saying we don't want to know where you live, we just want your address."

Dalby believed there was "a bit of gaming going on" on the Government's part, particularly with respect to the definitions and the proposed scope of the data retention laws.

"I suspect the broad description of the data that the Government is looking for might be an ambit claim in many ways, and that over time it will be pared back to something that the community accepts and is more than we've got today," he said.

Wikipedia defines an ambit claim as "an extravagant initial demand made in expectation of an eventual counter-offer and compromise".

Dalby noted that as a private entity, iiNet wasn't "particularly keen ... to be an agent of the state, collecting intelligence" on the Government's behalf, although it would cooperate with legislation should it be passed.

However, he did not want iiNet to be burdened with physical storage of the data.

"We suggest that rather than us store [the data] that we ... feed it off into a big black box in Canberra and make the Government store it," he said.

Costly proposal

Dalby noted that some of the data that the Government was seeking under the data retention proposal was not currently captured by telcos and ISPs.

Telstra's group managing director of corporate affairs, Dr Tony Warren, supported the need for clarity on data descriptions and what to do about data types that weren't currently held by telcos.

"What [the Government's] after, I believe, is data for a lot longer and a lot more interaction data," Warren said.

"Some of that [data] we simply don't capture at the moment. If they [the Government] want us to capture it, thats a costly impost on industry."

Optus corporate and regulatory affairs vice president David Epstein concurred: "These are undoubtedly very, very costly proposals if implemented as described."

Vodafone Hutchison Australia's general manager of industry strategy and public policy, Matthew Lobb, believed data retention was "a debate we need to have".

However, he said that practicalities needed to be worked through, particularly making sure that users' privacy was also protected.

"It's important that we facilitate our longstanding role as part of the law enforcement and security arrangements for our country," Lobb said.

"The key commercial driver for us is it's important that people trust using our networks, that they're secured, resilient."

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