Data retention proposal “totally insane”, says Linton


The chief executive of internet provider Exetel this afternoon described as a “nanny state gone totally insane” a Federal Government proposal which could potentially see telcos required to keep records of web browsing history, telephone calls and emails of their users.

The idea being explored with industry by the Attorney General’s Department would see a similar scheme implemented to the European Directive on Data Retention, which requires ISPs to record information on phone calls and emails, including from whom they were sent and from whom, the time and date and so on. has also reported that ISP industry sources had flagged the potential for the new regime to require ISPs to record a users’ complete web browsing history. ISPs such as iiNet have known about the proposal since late 2009.

“I have never heard of this proposal,” said Exetel CEO John Linton in an emailed statement this afternoon. “My personal view is that it is an insanely difficult and expensive process to implement that serves exactly no purpose whatsoever — in other words nanny state gone totally insane one more time by the current government.”

Linton said he had no idea how the system could actually be implemented by a company like his — a mid-tier ISP — and the cost of storing the data suggested would be incredibly high in overheads on any basis he could imagine.

“For a company the size of Telstra it would be a ludicrously high expense,” he added.

Telcos and broadband providers such as iiNet, Telstra and Internode this afternoon confirmed they were aware of the ideas being discussed. Adam Internet declined to comment.

“We are aware that the Government is considering its policy on data retention. While Government policy is a matter for the Government, our customers’ privacy is a priority for us, and we’ll be making that clear,” said a Telstra spokesperson.

“Internode can confirm it has participated in discussions with the Attorney-General’s Department about the data retention proposals referred to in the ZDNet story, but is unable to comment on these discussions due to confidentiality issues,” said a spokesperson for Internode. Other ISPs such as Optus have not responded to a request for comment.

The office of the Federal Government’s Privacy Commissioner said that the commissioner, Karen Curtis, was not available today to comment on the matter.

Image credit: Scott Adams, royalty free


  1. This government has gone batshit Big Brother insane.

    If any Australian government passed a law like this I’d up and leave.

    • Well supposedly we will get a public consultation before anything like this goes ahead … the thing that really bothers me about the whole thing is that the ISPs appear to be reluctant to comment about the issue because they have signed confidentiality agreements. I would like to see this issue publicly discussed extensively with all stakeholders included.

  2. To all thos idiots who voted for change, are you happy?

    Even the made lefties are freaking out at Conroy’s constant push for censorship and surveillance.

    Labor is a dictatorial totalitarian Stalinist Govt. that wants complete control over aspect of our lives.

    Next time voters don’t vote on the person but the substance.

    Can’t wait to see the back of Krudd and his Kronies.

    • I have to say, I have been rather disappointed by Labor when it comes to technology policy. Fundamentally they just don’t seem to understand how hot the fire is that they are playing with.

  3. Well when facebook tried to publish the books you purchased that didn’t go well with privacy advocates and facebook members in genereal. What on earth makes the government think they can pull this one off?

  4. Oh the irony. Stephen Conroy’s recent high horsed rant about google breaching the publics trust by capturing a few packets here and there from open wifi networks and here is the governments plan to log every URL pushed from our browsers and possibly more. And why? The usual “to catch the bad child molesters” speil despite the fact that most of the shady side of the web is not done through just browsing open webpages. So I am really curious as to why this is happening. It seems as tho Labour is trying to out do the Chinese government. Just remember to vote for someone else at the next election!

    • The problem is, Peter, that most of the other parties are interested in the issue … while the Opposition hasn’t quite gone this far in the past, they’re not exactly jumping up and down to stop this one. The Greens seem to understand technology policy though, and there is also the Pirate Party.

      If Turnbull was Opposition Leader again, maybe the Opposition might have some idea.

  5. If my ISP (Internode) decides to participate in this lunacy, I will be leaving them. If the government mandates this lunacy, I will be using every trick in my considerable reportoire (included encrypted VPN to a US point of presence) to become a complete non entity within Australia.

    No matter how much this government flails about, it cannot hope to match the pace at which the rest of the world develops ways to get around their pathetic attempts. Ask China. They are a dictatorial regime with a lot more practice and they still can’t manage to silence their citizens completely. Abbott isn’t what I’d call a good choice for PM but right now I’d take Trent from Punchy as PM before I’d vote for Rudd… (if you don’t know the reference, google “Trent from Punchy”, NSFW)

  6. There’s only so much mindless government viciousness and savagery that a population can stand before there’s a HUGE backlash by the voters. Kevin Rudd, Stephen Conroy and CO – you are so absolutely incompetent that for the next hundred years nobody you’ve ever spoken to even on a casual basis should get voted into *any* position of responsibility or power (seriously folks, you should not even be trying to tie your own shoeleaces). Criminally incompetent thinking and religious fanaticalism such as you and your rabidly foaming cronies have espoused is a cancer on society the likes of which makes even ALQAEDA have nightmares.

    • I do think it is true that both Conroy and Rudd have underestimated the level of anger and frustration out there about Australian Government censoring and monitoring of the internet. Australia *just* doesn’t want this, and I don’t understand why the Government thinks it’s a good idea.

      Listen to the voters!

  7. I don’t usually agree with Linton but with this I totally agree with him, it is way totally insane!

  8. The irony of this, is that it will push all of the people they are trying to catch to obfuscate their actions and make them harder to find.

    In the end this will all be a waste of time and money, and create a massive number of data repositories that will be an obvious target for data theft.

    • True — the EFA pointed that out in conversations I had with them on Friday. The problem is that once you create these sort of databases, they are *always* used for other purposes than for which they were created. I mean … can you imagine how many police officers have done something as simple as looked up somebody’s criminal record or the owner of a licence plate, for an entirely personal matter? Quite a lot, I would assume.

      Extrapolate that principle to a database with records of who anyone in Australia called or emailed at what time and date and you have the potential for massive privacy breaches.

  9. I am truly gob smacked over this! What a bunch of idiots we have running this country. Libs and Labour have lost the plot.

    Libs wont’ invest in infrastructure and Labour will but then is going to only stand over us telling us what we can and can’t do. I truly feel like a little kid in a classes room. I certainly didn’t vote for these policy’s.

    The country is going into a spiral.

    • I don’t quite think we’ve reached the worst level we can go to (there aren’t many storm-troopers bashing down doors yet), but it’s certainly true that we’re headed in that general direction. The shocking thing is, many people just don’t seem to care about it.

  10. I see opportunities for a new encrypted VPN based web structure. I don’t trust poiliticains and government agencies with the data they have now why would they do nay thing good with this data. I also don’t trust the data captured to be secured and retained safely and not get into the hands of identity thief’s. The volume of data and storage requirements would open the door to mistakes.

    Given man cyber criminals are based in Europe I wonder if the European policy is in fact something they had their politicians put in place or maybe marketing and big business want it. Certainly makes me start to believe in NWO and conspiracy theories.

    If this occurs perhaps the alternate is to log off on line (probably would save me money)

    • I think there certainly will be quite a few VPN services startup in Australia over the next year or so … maybe with an outlet somewhere in Switzerland or in the Cayman Islands so that even that data can’t be traced?

  11. So you won’t be able to search for information on things like incontinence, sexual dysfunction, genital warts etc without the government knowing about it? Not that you should trust Google with that information either, I’d do it on a more private search engine like Ixquick, but the government wants to be able to pry on our private health-related searches? That could potentially close off a wealth of health information to people who care about their privacy but will now be too scared to use the internet as a resource.

    And then there’s searches people do on political or religious matters – you’re not forced to provide information like that in the census, and you get a private ballot when you vote, but you’ll be forced to give it to the government via your browsing history?

  12. If a law along these lines is passed, that will be the day to leave the country and try to start a new life somewhere else; before they close the borders, too. I’m in a very safe Liberal seat, alas, but I can still make a difference by numbering my senate vote carefully. Don’t vote for either of the big two, they each have their heads up each other’s arses.

    • I do think Australia desperately needs a strong, wise, independent third force. Greens, anyone? Senate Scott Ludlam certainly gets technology.

  13. Lets play devil’s advocate. How does “tracking phone calls made over the net” differ to “telstra, I want to see a complete phone history of calls made from this number”?

    Apart from the lack of a required court order, is it any different to the analogue world? And if not, what is the problem?

    FOR THE RECORD I am not taking sides, just throwing out the discussion point.

    • Currently, as I understand it, telcos like Telstra only store the calls that you have made for a small period of time (I think it’s two years or something) and they only have to provide that information to the govt with a warrant. A lot of IP telephony (for example, I think, Skype) is not included in this system. We don’t know under the new system whether a warrant would be required (who would be able to access the data etc), and instead of telcos having the option to store their data (as I believe it is currently), they would be compelled to. Also, the period of retention is believed to be much longer under the new proposal.

      (and of course, email may be included)

      A lot of this is speculation based on Ben Grubb’s original article and the contents of the EU Directive.

  14. What the hell is going on with this government?!? They seem to think they can do anything and noone can stop them… They’re acting like dictators rather than elected representatives…

    • Most governments do start to act a little like dictators shortly after they get elected … they have to maintain control so they win the next election, you see ;)

  15. The IT Block in Australia both private and business have severely embarrassed Rudd ,Conroy and the Labour party in general , they have been made to look at best extremely ill informed on the local and world stage, this is nothing but payback to those they think deserve it . My personal view is Australians wont wear this , i hope i am right !!

    • I really think as those of us who grew up with technology graduate to positions of power and influence, that most of these policies will eventually go away. They are, at a fundamental level, inefficient and ineffective, and if there is anything that the internet is good at, it is pointing out where things are inefficient and ineffective.

  16. @Renai LeMay – It’s my observation that once established in legislation, very few governmental impositions into privacy ever really go away. At best – the technology moves past the blocks being relevant.

    I have no idea who I’ll vote for at the next election. I can only hope for a green candidate to stand in my electorate – as I certainly can’t in good conscience vote for either Liberal or Labour in good conscience based on their current policies.

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