Telcos finally briefed on data retention details

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Telcos finally briefed on data retention details

Update: AGD offers list of data to be stored.

The Australian Government has offered the telecommunications industry a precise definition of the metadata it wants retained under the banner of national security.

The Attorney-General's Department on Friday issued a consultation paper - maked "confidential" - to select members of the industry in an effort to clarify the Government's bungled attempt to explain the technical details behind its plan to force internet service providers to store non-content data for up to two years.

The department said it was seeking industry feedback about the practicality of retaining the specified data, and that it would use the feedback to develop the policy further.

The paper, sighted by iTnews, claims that a rapid increase in new services and business models are eroding traditional business drivers for the retaining of telecommunications data - and therefore the availability of information for law enforcement.

For the first time since the Government announced the policy, the AGD offered telcos specific detail on what data it wants stored.

It emphasised that despite previous comments by two Government ministers, the specified dataset would not involve the retention of “web address identifiers” such as destination IP addresses or URLs.

The Government wants telecommunications companies to store:

  • names, addresses, birthdates, financial and billing information of internet and phone account holders;
  • traffic data such as numbers called and texted, as well as times and dates of communications;
  • when and where online communications services start and end;
  • a user’s IP address;
  • type and location of communication equipment; and
  • upload and download volumes, among others.

The AGD did not respond to iTnews requests for further clarification.

The Australian Government’s view, the paper states, is that the scheme would apply to all companies providing communications services in the country.

Clearing up the confusion

Representatives from Australia's spy agency ASIO and the federal police were forced to front the media earlier this month after both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis failed to offer a definition of the data to be retained under the scheme.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull - who had originally been left out of the policy development - was forced to intervene to clarify that, contrary to comments made by both Abbott and Brandis, website addresses were not included.

The telecommunications industry had previously relied on a 2009 briefing paper - provided by the Labor Government for its proposed data retention scheme - for details on what they might be required to do.

Ministers Turnbull and Brandis began meeting with industry earlier this month.

ASIO and the AFP are pushing for source IP addresses to be retained as opposed to destination IP addresses alongside non-content call data, and claimed to have no interest in user browsing history.

Representatives from the two agencies have argued that the data they were seeking to access was already being retained by telcos, but needed to be stored longer to better assist law enforcement agencies.

Update 5:42pm: 

The Attorney-General's Department said items within the draft data set had been included on the advice of agencies that such pieces of information were valuable and relevant for investigations.

In response to questions about why the Government had included upload and download volumes in the metadata list, a spokesperson declined to comment specifically but said "the value of telecommunications data in protecting public safety is indisputable".

"The Government welcomes industry’s assistance in developing data retention and expects the policy process to be informed by industry feedback," the spokesperson said.

"The consultations do not pre-empt a particular outcome and the scope of data retention needs to be settled."

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