The Government wants to bring in tough metadata laws as quickly as possible, pushing in legislation the Joint Standing Committee is expected to report on at the end of the month.
In a joint press conference with the Australian Federal Police, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the planned metadata retention legislation was a vital element in the war against crime.
“As soon as that report comes down the Government wants the Parliament to deal with it, because as we know, from the bitter experience of the Martin Place siege, as we know from the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris, there are a whole range of people – sadly, people in our country – who want to do us harm and it’s absolutely vital that we maintain the capacity to trace, to detect, to protect, the Australian public against all kinds of crime,” Mr Abbott said.
“This Government will not rest until our community is as safe as it possibly can be and a vital part of that is getting this data retention legislation through the Parliament. So, that’s the challenge for all of us: to get it through the Parliament. I am determined to ensure that that happens as quickly as is humanly possible.”
Minister for Justice Michael Keenan echoed the Prime Minister’s sentiments, saying it is imperative police be able to use metadata “as an investigative tool.”
“If we were to remove the ability of police to know that they can access that metadata within a prescribed period, in this case two years, we would really be tying one hand behind their back in the fight against serious crime and in the fight against all crime types,” Mr Keenan said.
The Prime Minister said the legislation focuses on general data “that the system generates” and that police would require a warrant for access to a user’s personal data.
“What we’re asking the telecommunications companies to do is to keep the data that they generate,” Mr Abbott explained. “We’re asking them to keep doing what they used to do which increasingly they’re not doing, because of the change in technology.”
Mr Abbott did not get into specifics in terms of the costs associated with the new laws, saying that the Government is working with the online sector to determine expenditure.
“But, even if the costs are in the order of a couple of hundred million, you’ve got to remember that this is a $40 billion plus sector,” Mr Abbott said. “So, the costs involved are comparatively modest and, obviously, we the Government are prepared to work with the sector to ensure that we bear our fair share of the costs as well.”
The lack of clarity when it comes to the legislation’s ultimate costs has seen a negative reaction from the telecommunications industry.
At a Baker & McKenzie industry event in Sydney, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said the already high regulatory burden on telcos would only get worse under the new regulation.
“It’s fair to say that the telecommunications sector already makes an extremely large contribution to the Australian economy, and in a very positive way. It also bears heavily the cost of regulation, whether it comes to the ACMA, TIO, ACCAN, and a range of other bodies,” Mr Stanton said.
“It now appears that the industry won’t see [the costs] and neither will the [committee]. That will make it a little bit difficult to understand whether the reasonable contribution the government is offering to make to support this scheme is reasonable, because we won’t know the overall estimate.
“There is a bit of consternation about that with industry.”