Police want “indefinite” data retention


blog You might think the proposal by the Federal Attorney-General’s Department for ISPs to maintain metadata for two years pertaining to virtually every communication made by every Australian online was pretty draconian … but it turns out the nation’s cadre of police forces actually want more — a lot more. According to the ABC and a plethora of other media outlets reporting from parliamentary hearings yesterday (we recommend you click here for the ABC version and there’s more on Google News), Australia’s friendly police want to keep that data … forever:

“The spies and police want radical new powers, including forcing telecommunication providers to keep information indefinitely, but the Government’s proposal would restrict them to two years of data retention.”

Some commentators have said that this approach by Australia’s police forces should have been expected. But personally I feel shocked and appalled. Are these the people who are supposed to be protecting Australians? Really? And yet, they want to maintain records, forever, on every communication that every Australian makes on the Internet? The size of that type of database would run astronomically huge, and contain enough data to build up a comprehensive picture of what every Australian did with their lives — down to the little details. The potential for abuse and scope creep would be incredible.

It doesn’t look like this kind of “indefinite” data retention is likely to get up at this point. But if the current data retention proposal gets approved, one can imagine an eventual “minor” legislative change to see the period data is held extended indefinitely. And this would be a very, very scary thing. You’ve heard of ‘Big Data’? Well, imagine if Big Brother gets his hands on Big Data, about everyone in Australia. Now that’s a big problem.

Image credit: Andrea Roberts, Creative Commons


  1. Our police and spies want permanent data retention? Since when were these services infiltrated by the Stasi?

    • I think it was about 26 January 1788. Trouble is they haven’t realised that the population (that are not law enforcers) are no longer all criminals.

  2. Who is going to pay for this bullshit?
    They think the NBN is going to cost big… This BS its going to be exponentially and cumulatively expensive.

  3. It will be important to review the transcript of this evidence. Often, these statements are qualified in a way that is not reported in the media, and the story, rather than the evidence, becomes the quote. Which has unfortunately happened here.

  4. From the ABC report: “Police say the question of who would pay for that is a matter for politicians.” No, put it on the police budget. It is human nature to get others to volunteer.

    Wikipedia explains the House of Lords decision in the “Rule in Rylands v Fletcher”; that “the person who for his own purpose brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief, if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape”.

    We have seen from leaks from the Tax Department and Wikileaks that data is like a gas: it has a habit of escaping. If law enforcement authorities insist on data being kept, they should be legally responsible for damage cause when it “escapes”.

  5. SAPOL did a similar thing with DNA samples, they used to tell people that they were collecting DNA to exclude people from their enquiries and once they were excluded the sample and records would be destroyed. Turns out that was a complete and utter lie. They are slowly collecting a DNA database for the whole State, even of people who their enquiries have proven are law abiding citizens.

  6. I get the feeling that the policing here is just about getting cheap convictions. Mine data, find petty violations, increase your “efficiency”.

    From the ABC article: “‘We have criminals who will walk around town with a pocket full of SIM cards,’ he said.

    ‘They’ll make one call, thrown the SIM card away; make the next call, throw the SIM card away. Each of these is done on a different telecommunications service.'”

    Really? Thats your “hard” opponent? Wait till the “persons of interest” start using end to end encrypted comms over something like tor, which is probably already relatively widespread (4G, the criminals choice. The ads write themselves). Can’t see endpoint, can’t see content, can’t “associate times” if you spray stuff around a bit. Good luck with that. But no, lets just propose laws that force the real crims into that sort of thing, while having carte blanche at the rest of society. What a crock this is.

    * Who are they calling? You can’t watch that number?
    * Who is buying the sims (no, not the game…)? You can’t do something about tightening id on sim activation? Hell a central database of who owns what sim is less burdensome than what they are proposing. Yes I’m aware this includes companies, but a few laws imposing financial burdens on companies whose sim’s are misused should assist in tracking who is using what sim.

    I’m just boggling at the ineptitude of this whole approach. While there may be something else (please, please, let them have something more than this) that other agencies are worried about, mr Johnny Hopper here really does need a quick lesson in post 80s living.

    Hell I regularly carry 2-3 phones and sims, just because I have things for different purposes. Oh and some are under company names and the like, not mine. Shock horror. Have I just defeated our best and brightest?

    Just. Really.

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