news Australia’s peak body representing Internet users has warned that “some, perhaps many” of Australia’s smaller Internet service providers could be forced out of business in the near term as a result of the lack of clarity over the Federal Government’s plans to reimburse ISPs for part of the cost of implementing its controversial data retention policy.
The Data Retention legislation was passed in March this year under the stewardship of Attorney-General George Brandis, but there has been a six month window where the Attorney-General’s Department has been working with the telecommunications industry to ensure compliance with its requirements of storing ‘metadata’ pertaining to emails, telephone calls, SMS messages and more, regarding all Australians’ telecommunications habits.
The Act is due to apply from October 13th, but the Attorney-General’s Department has so far failed to provide its proposed guidelines for the distribution of financial compensation to Internet Service Providers required to comply with the Act.
Computerworld reported last week that the funding model would be revealed in November, but the Communications Alliance — the body representing most of Australia’s telecommunications companies, including smaller providers as well as large telcos such as Telstra and Optus — has publicly criticised the Government for the lack of clarity around how the $131 million the Government has allocated to reimbursements will be divided up.
Meanwhile, iTnews has reported that ISPs granted certain exemptions under the scheme — for example, if they are unable to get their systems in order in time — are being silenced by the Government due to the risk that those seeking to avoid having their data retained (for example, criminals) may use their systems.
Over the weekend, Internet Australia added its voice to criticism of the Government over the issue, calling for “urgent clarification” on how reimbursements would take place.
Chief executive Laurie Patton warned that there was a “very real prospect of ISPs going out of business if they are not adequately reimbursed for the costs of implementation and the ongoing operating costs incurred in complying with this questionable law”.
Internet Australia has also recently called on new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to reconsider the Data Retention Act. Overseas, there are moves away from this form of community surveillance amid concerns for personal privacy rights and limited evidence that data retention actually works in the fight against terrorism.
“Since the enactment of this legislation it has become clear that the Abbott Government significantly underestimated the costs that would be incurred by ISPs and failed to allocate sufficient funding in the Budget,” Patton added.
“There is a risk that some, perhaps many, of the smaller ISPs will simply go out of business as a result of this new law. This is especially unfortunate for rural Internet consumers who rely on local ISPs because they offer a specialised and personalised service”.
“At the very least the Government needs to commit to funding the costs incurred by ISPs if it insists on retaining this onerous law”, Patton concluded.
Australia’s telecommunications industry has been seeking urgent clarification on the costs of the scheme from the Government since at least March, when the nation’s major telcos penned an unprecedented joint letter to the Government on the issue.
Australia’s telecommunications industry has been seeking urgent clarity on this issue for at least six months. The lack of ability which the Attorney-General’s Department appears to have to provide that clarity speaks volumes about the viability of the Data Retention scheme as a whole.