Privacy Commissioner funded to keep tabs on data retention

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Privacy Commissioner funded to keep tabs on data retention
Timothy Pilgrim

Budget 2015: OAIC given brief reprieve.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has been handed a significant funding boost to pay for the extra resources required to monitor the privacy implications of the government's data retention scheme.

The Commissioner will receive an extra $4.2 million over the next four years to keep tabs on how telecommunications companies are meeting their obligations under the new laws.

The legislation requires telcos to hold onto customer non-content data (or metadata) for two years so it can be accessed if needed by law enforcement bodies.

The sum represents a significant increase in the small office's annual operating budget. 

It is the second victory the Privacy Commissioner has reaped from the passage of the data retention laws in March.

As part of the scheme, the Government promised to revive a mandatory data breach reporting regime that Pilgrim and his colleagues at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) had been lobbying for over several years.

Budget wrap: All the tech

The Commonwealth Ombudsman will also receive an extra $6.7 million over four years to meet new obligations as a separate watchdog over new national security legislation.

The federal budget, released tonight, also made some effort to respond to complaints of a lack of resources from the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

The IGIS said it would need more staff to deal with the raft of new spying powers passed into law last year.

The agency will be exempted from a one percent efficiency dividend imposed on the rest of government, which the Coalition estimates will return $700,000 to its coffers over the forward estimates.

The oversight funding adds to the $131 million the Government will contribute to the telecommunications industry to help pay the costs of setting up systems for data retention.

The money will be released to telcos over a period of three years through a program of grants.

A further $10.6 million will be given to federal agencies such as the AFP, ACMA and Australian Crime Commission to pay for "technical guidance" they will offer to the telcos to support the "standards and specifications" of data rentention systems.

OAIC lives to see another day

The Government has also been forced to sink more money into the OAIC one year after it announced its plans to dissolve the office.

The budget reveals the Coalition will front up another $1.7 million for the ongoing operations of the agency into 2015-16.

Described as "transitional funding", the sum will keep the office and its statutory office holders - whose posts cannot be dissolved without the passage of legislation - going until the government can get its bill formalising the OAIC's closure through the Senate.

Ahead of 2014 budget night, Attorney-General George Brandis announced the OAIC was one of a multitude of entities that would be closed to further the Government's 'smaller government' agenda and to save $10.2 million over four years.

This saving margin has likely been slimmed by the failure of the Government to pass the bill ahead of the summer break last year, meaning that the OAIC continues to function - albeit with an uncertain future.

Budget papers indicate the money is only intended to tide the agency and its remaining staff over "pending the implementation of the measure".

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