Labor slams data retention funding “uncertainties”


news The Labor Opposition has hit out at the way the Government handled grant assistance for companies falling under the remit of new data retention regulation.

Calling Attorney-General George Brandis “incompetent”, the party slammed the time it has taken to announce grant assistance for ISPs who must comply with data retention obligations.

“An astounding 530 days has elapsed” since the passage of the bill and the announcement of the funding, Labor Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Brandis revealed details of grants being issued to assist companies with the cost burden of compliance with the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015.

Under the bill, telecommunications providers must keep customers’ call records, locations, IP addresses, billing information, and other data for two years.

The delay has left the sector “beset with uncertainty and an understandable aversion, particularly by smaller operators, to invest in the systems required to meet their new compliance obligations”, Rowland added.

When the mandatory data retention regime came into effect in October last year, Communications Alliance suggested there was an “alarmingly low state of compliance readiness with the new regime”, the MP said.

Further, Rowland said, while the Coalition Government has divided $128.4 million between service providers towards the implementation costs of compliance, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated the costs of complying with the legislation to be between $188.8 and $319 million.

“[Q]uestions remain about the ongoing operating costs that will be accrued by ISPs in the performance of their obligations and the cost recovery processes that will operate in practice,” the MP said.

“This is not explicitly set out in the legislation,” the Opposition MP continued, “leaving service providers to make assumptions about the procedures that will apply based on current interception and access arrangements.”

With ISPs such as iiNet and consumer advocates such as the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) suggesting that the scheme’s operating costs are being passed on to consumers, “this aspect needs to be urgently clarified”, Rowland said.

Rowland concluded by supporting calls by industry for “sensible regulatory restraint” to be exercised for service providers that have been “impacted by the Government’s delay” and which may be unable to fully meet their compliance obligations by the April 2017 deadline – in particular the smaller operators.

Image credit: Parliamentary broadcasting