Mandatory Data Retention: What We Know So Far

News that the Australian government was considering a mandatory retention policy for ISPs that could see them recording all sites accessed by users stirred up a fury amongst Lifehacker readers when it emerged on Friday. News journalists have been busy digging into the issue since, so here’s a quick round-up what we know so far.

As the original report at ZDNet made clear, the proposal by the Attorney-General’s department is only in the early stages, and it’s not yet clear whether it will directly copy the similar laws in Europe or (as some unnamed ISPs reported) will extend data retention to individual browsing histories. Nonetheless, news of the plan spread so quickly that the AG didn’t waste much time in trying to hose it down.

At Delimiter, Renai Le May reported that the AG’s department has said that browsing history will not be retained, but wouldn’t comment further on the matter. LeMay also notes that the European Directive on Data Retention, the model for the current proposal, doesn’t require retaining browsing history but does require email addresses to be retained — an equally scary prospect if you believe you’re entitled to any privacy at all.

If the proposal goes forward, we can expect to hear a lot of arguments along the lines of “this has been introduced without controversy in Europe” (a line already often used to defend mandatory filtering). That’s not necessarily true either. At iTnews, Liam Tung outlines the history of how mandatory data retention has been received in Europe, where the directive is supposed to have the force of law in EU countries. The short version? Germany has repealed the laws, and nine EU countries are yet to implement them.

Right now, the unpopular plan to introduce a mandatory filter remains a bigger concern if you’re worried about freedom to utilise the Internet in Australia. With that said, the newer proposal tends to reinforce the idea that the current government doesn’t rank either privacy or openness very highly in its list of values.

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