Federal data retention plan sparks industry concerns

Warnings around "scope creep" and tsunami of action seeking metadata

Federal Parliament: weighing the pros and cons of data retention

Federal Parliament: weighing the pros and cons of data retention

The cost of running the Federal government’s high-profile data retention program may spark a “tsunmi of action” from thousands of people seeking access to their metadata.

Among the industry groups, the Communications Alliance’s CEO, John Stanton, told a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security hearing that this program may spark a “tsunami of action” around commercial or marital disputes, among other areas.

“Our concern, I guess, is that this is a high-profile exercise and it will put it very clearly in the public consciousness that a defined set of data is available from every service provider, and we think it may start an industry, if you like.”

There are elements of a data-set that need data to be collected and manipulated in ways that it is not being done today, he said. This may include a historical aggregate of records around upload or download volumes. There is presently no business incentive for service providers to collect this data.

Problems of scope creep

The data retention Bill must also guard against a “scope creep” or moving past intended policy parameters. The cost of managing an ongoing data retention program, especially for internet data, will cost the industry. These costs may be passed onto consumers.

More clarity is sought around cost-benefit analysis and impact statements that weigh the financial implications. “We have perhaps at times grown a little weary of hearing this proposal described as a requirement to do no more than service providers do today.” Stanton said.

“It is in most cases far from that. It is a data creation regime as well as a data retention regime, for all of those providers who do not presently retain everything in the data-set. Data creation is typically a complex and often an expensive process.”

The industry says it does not have full visibility involving the government's contribution to running a data retention program. Clarity is sought around whether these contributions will be reasonable or substantial.

“And in those circumstances we obviously do not know how large the financial shortfall will be in implementing and complying with the regime, that shortfall being borne by service providers, but ultimately by their customers,” Stanton said.

Keeping telephony data over two years is not far from what typically occurs now. The broader concern revolves around storing internet data over extended periods. The industry is recommending up to six months for internet data.

Service providers support individuals’ rights to access their metadata. This personal information is stored by communications service providers. This access “absolutely ought to be maintained,” Stanton noted.

The deeper concern is around creating a precedent that enables hundreds of thousands or more individuals to demand access to their metadata.

“We were not 100 per cent sure whether that was cost recovery from the customer or from the government, and that is something we will try to clarify offline with the department,” Stanton said.

Managing historical data is costly, Stanton said. There is a general consensus that the “younger data” is more useful to tackle serious crime or national-security issues.

Operational costs

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association’s CEO Chris Althaus said there is a 50-plus per cent growth across all categories of data. This is capped at nearly 100 per cent for mobile over smartphone devices.

The big growth is in fixed-line broadband. This has moved from just over 600,000 terabytes to nearly a million terabytes in a year.

Peter Froelich, an industry member with the Communications Alliance, said the overall costs are not strictly incremental but more exponential.

“In terms of the way that data growth is in the industry at the moment, as you start to blow out the time period from two years to three years, four years, five years or whatever you propose, the volume of data usage on an internet-type service is growing at a factor of 10 times.”

The operational costs are around more mundane aspects like power, air conditioning or floor space. “That is where the costs will be driven up as we start to store more information, and store it at an exponential rate,” Froelich said.

Details about the industry submissions can be found at this Parliamentary Inquiry web site.

Tags AMTACommunications AlliancemetadataParliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Securitytelcosmobile devicessmart phonesinternet datafederal governmentFederal government data retention billcommunication service providersISPs

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