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Australia ignores data retention in summer slack-off

Cops 'n' spooks dominate dribble of submissions to Senate inquiry

The Australian federal government's strategy of conducting inquiries on a short time-scale approaching holidays is paying off in spades when it comes to data retention.

The Register has already noted the government's rushed Christmas-eve questionnaire to the telecommunications industry about the costs of data retention.

There's been a similarly-muted response to the government's inquiry (conducted by the Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security) into the details of the data retention bill.

The November-announced call for submissions on data retention proposals, with submissions closing on 19 January, has only managed to garner 14 responses – and eight of those are from law enforcement agencies.

Those agency submissions overwhelmingly focus on specific questions arising from the Senate Committee process: how many requests have different agencies made, with or without warrants; how many convictions have been secured arising from stored data; and so on.

Agency responses might be considered, by a harsh observer, to be inadequate. Of the police services to have responded so far (Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Federal Police), the responses are as follows.

  • Everybody knows how many records they obtained for stored communications, with or without a warrant;
  • Age of records: only South Australia Police knew how old the telecommunications records were at the time of request (over 12 months old was the dominant record type).
  • Did access to communications prevent crime or a terrorist act? – the AFP says yes, the remainder don't collect the data.
  • Convictions – The AFP records 328 convictions based on retained data, and the South Australian Police records 146 convictions. The other services didn't have the data.

The other agencies under the Attorney-General's department, ASIO and the Australian Crime Commission, have made confidential submissions. It's worth noting that state police services are also stakeholders in the Australian Crime Commission.

And the rest? There are four submissions from individuals, one from the Gilbert+Tobin Centre of Public Law, and a joint submission from the Communications Alliance and Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association.

Unless Australians get over their habitual December-to-Easter slack-off, the Attorney-General will be able to credibly claim that the lack of opposition to the data retention bill represents a kind of consent to it, and will proceed.

To date, even activist organisations appear not to have prised themselves off a beach to pen submissions to the data retention inquiry. An unseasonal cold spell can't come fast enough, if Australia truly cares about this issue. ®

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