Data retention: Still a shambles ahead of October rollout

Funding a mystery, discussion falls under ban-hammer

Australia's Attorney-General's Department hasn't worked out when money to support telcos' and ISPs' data retention efforts will start to flow.

The department, left in the hands of Grand Sysadmin George Brandis in Malcolm Turnbull's cabinet reshuffle, has been criticised by the Communications Alliance for being vague about the funding arrangements.

The industry had asked for government funding to help it adjust to the demands of data retention, which require the collection of user IP addresses, e-mail headers, and similar data. This has to be stored and secured for a minimum of two years, accessible to whichever agencies the government decides to grant access to.

It seems ISPs will have to take the "garden shed" storage option if they haven't the spare cash for data retention, because the government doesn't know when its promised support package will commence.

Alliance CEO John Stanton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's AM radio program the best advice available from the AGD is that the money – AU$131 million allocated for this financial year – will flow sometime in this financial year.

That window is too large, Stanton said, since the official start date for the spook's charter is October 13 – meaning ISPs are already buying systems without knowing how the government funds will be allocated, or when they will arrive.

For most of the roughly-400 small providers in the country, Stanton described compliance as “tough”, adding that “we really urgently need the government to provide some clarity”.

That comes as some ISPs on the Ausnog – Australian Network Operators Group – mailing list are accusing the department of bullying tactics to silence discussion of the data retention regime.

Ross Wheeler has posted a message to Ausnog in which he says the department told him not to discuss the implementation advice he had received.

The message reads, in part: “we strongly recommend you keep all information relating to this decision confidential. Disclosure of any information relating to this application may change the Communications Access Co-ordinators decision.”

Network operator Skeeve Stevens' response was to write that the AGD is trying to turn what should be a simple process into “a magical mystery tour, because if you divide it is easier to conquer.”

The Register has requested comment from the AGD. ®

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