Australia's metadata retention scheme costs telcos $500k per cuffing

Netadmin-general Brandis needs just one more vote to get telco-tweaking powers

The Australian Government's telecommunications data retention scheme is racking up the bills for carriers, but government funding has fallen short of the industry's costs.

That's one of the conclusions of the first [PDF] telecommunications interception report since the scheme began, tabled in Federal Parliament yesterday.

After a long negotiation with telecommunications carriers and ISPs, the government agreed to provide AU$128 million to help with implementation costs for the scheme. The report finds the industry's capital costs will be closer to $200 million by April this year – a $70 million gap, with two-and-a-half months still to go.

In 2015-2016, the 63 agencies allowed to request access to retained metadata made nearly 334,000 requests, nearly all of which were for criminal investigations.

Those 334,000 requests and $200 million cost yielded 366 arrests and 195 convictions – a unit cost of more than $500k per arrest, and more than $1 million per conviction.

Most of the requests related to drug investigations.

The data release arrived on the same day as attorney general George Brandis took a step closer to giving himself a power of veto over the country's telecommunications infrastructure.

The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 passed the Senate yesterday with amendments advanced by the government side that allow for future clarification of some terms industry worried could lead to too-broad interventions in their affairs. There's also new provisions for Parliamentary oversight of intervention in telcos' networks. The legislation now awaits only a vote in the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass with bipartisan support. ®

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