Mandatory Data Retention: What We Know So Far

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 Germany has repealed the laws, and nine EU countries are yet to implement them.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.


  • If you don’t want this type of draconian legislation then don’t vote for the Labor or Liberal parties at the coming election. Instead vote for parties like the greens, pirate party, sex party who all want to protect the internet from an overzealous government.

      • I’d keep your ears open on that one. I think they’re trying to say as little about it as possible. I don’t for a minute believe they wouldn’t do the same thing.

    • +1 to what this fine gentleman has said.
      I would be interested in seeing a LifeHacker article advising readers on the different political parties with regards to freedom in the information age. While I wouldn’t want too much politics in my techie news, this is something that the tech community really cannot ignore.

      • It’s undoubtedly an issue we’ll visit closely when the election gets announced. Quick and dirty summary: The Liberals have expressed reservations about the specific mandatory filtering proposal but haven’t generally been opposed to the concept so far, and indeed introduced the more limited ACMA blacklist which the filter would expand.

      • Hi Angus,

        Pirate Party Australia would be glad to take part in a round-up like that.

        I believe our policies for maintaining a free and open internet, which maintains privacy, will rank the highest with your readers.


        David Crafti
        Pirate Party Australia

    • @john,

      Nice thought but I don’t believe that the single issue groups have the competence to govern. A balance of power held by some regional fruitcake is in some ways the worst outcome. Best policy might be to decide who you can’t stand more and vote for the other major party.

      I hate the idea of the power that will be wielded by the government of the day if the internet filter is successfully deployed, not to mention the fact that it will be so easily defeated and so is really just electoral window dressing, also I detest the eroding of more of our privacy in the name of…….actually what is the justification for this one……, subversive behavior, terrorism or just another lame excuse that might just pass the “maybe its OK” test of average Joes and Janes.

      Where does that leave me in terms of my electoral choices. Actually nowhere and that is the problem. I couldn’t vote for Labor with Conroy still peddling his crap, can’t vote for Libs with Abbot at the notional helm, can’t vote for single issues parties (see above). Oops looks like I have painted myself into a corner. Might have to stand myself 🙂


      • I haven’t even met you and I’d vote for you over the other two.

        This is the problem with the two party preferred system. When both parties are unvotable.

      • You can vote green without directing your preferences to labor. Just ignore the ‘how to vote’ card from greens and do our own thing.

        BTW on the senate ticket by voting below the line, providing you make over a given number of preferences correctly, you can leave the rest blank and therefore end up casting no vote for either liberal or labor.
        I know this is true as I have scrutineered for federal elections in the past but sorry, I’ve forgotton the percentage of correct voting you need to keep your vote valid

  • as far as I am concered, this is a real problem. does the government read and store all of your snail mail? no. so why is internet email considered a medium that they can do with as they wish?

    if this is supposed to stop terrorism, child pr0n, etc…then like most tech savy people they will find other ways to communicate. This is a short sighted measure just to catch stupid people.

  • Can they please just concentrate on enabling, not disabling the internet for us. I’d have expected that they’d have enough to do setting up the National Broadband Network? At this rate it’s looking worse before it’s even got better.

  • Lets call them by their real name, ASIO. ASIO are part of the Attorney Generals Office and it would be them who want this SO THEY CAN SPY ON US retrospectively. Yes…I’m so looking forward to my own stinking Government treating me like a criminal. And before I get flamed for “What have U got to hide. Better that than terrorists being able to operate”, it’s exactly the same as having someone standing behind you watching everything you do online. No Thanks.

  • Nick I completely agree!!!
    If the government took 10% of the cost of the Conroy plan, the National Broadband Initiative, Mandatory Data Retention; we could all have high speed ADSL, nationwide! I don’t nee a 20Megabit net work, I’d be happy with an 8000k downstream, 1024k upstream broadband 2, 50 to 150Gigabytes; naked… as we live in the country and use the mobile not the landline, I fork out $29.95 a month just so that I can have ADSL + the $69.99 for 50GBs at 1500/256 that would be more positive all they have to do is tell Telstra to allow ISPs to put their hardware back in the Telstra centrals, we used to have ADSL2 out here in Sorrento, Portsea, Blairgowrie, Rye and Telstra made iiNet rip their hardware out and sent us all back to caveman mode an hour and a half out of Melbourne the CBD! Who the F’n Hell needs FiberOptics????!!! Imagine 8000/1024k nation wide as a base speed!!!!!!

    Then they could take another 10% out for education of parents and school kids and industry about the dangers of the internet and methods of providing a safe net, such as good parenting/not net/computer/gamestation nannying, opt-in ISP filtering, cheap/free (government funded) or tax free internet security software for PC, Mac and Linux, mobile systems – that already exists.

    Finally they could take another 10 to 20% and give it to the internet task force/internet police!!

    This is what is needed, then we all chugging along, able to work or play no matter where we are and if by chance we’re breaking the law then the authorities have the means and methods for capturing and prosecuting us… HUH, doesn’t that make more sense than 1). The Conroy plan; 2). The National Broadband Initiative; 3). Mandatory Data Retention?

    Peace Out!

    PS. and yes we will all know…. probably most youth faster than most; unless titled techno-geek or a firm grasp of network forums, will over-ride/bypass\circumventive all of the above 1-2-3 government initiatives!!!

  • It only gets worse. I just read this at ABC’s news site (emphasis mine):

    “Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith announced late last month that the Government intended to sign up to the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime.


    So now we face the possibility of not only our own government spying on us, but foreign governments as well with our own governments blessing.

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