Data Retention - What Does it Mean for Australians?

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On October 13 the Australian Government’s MetaData legislation came into effect - here’s a simple breakdown about what this means for those of us in Australia.

So what is all the fuss about this scheme anyway?

In it’s simplest form this legislation allows for the Australian Government to monitor basic communication shared between it’s citizens for the purpose of minimising the actions of terrorists in our own backyard… or as Attorney-General Nicola Roxen puts it:

“The intention behind the proposed reform is to allow law enforcement agencies to continue investigating crime in light of new technologies”

From the onset this scheme appears to be a government response to heightened terrorist threats from overseas; however many people are arguing that it is a useless exercise at the expense of completely innocent people here in Australia.

So….What is Metadata?

Metadata is basically data about data.. I know, it’s confusing. Think of it this way: You make a phone call to your best mate, the content of this call would be the first set of data. The data about this phone call (Metadata) is the:

  • Time and date of your call
  • Who you called
  • How long the call lasted
  • The location of the cell phone tower you connected to

Tony simply referred to it as

“the name and address on the front of an envelope”

but as you can see it really is nowhere near as basic as that.

So who is collecting this information?

Under the new scheme, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) and Telecommunications companies are required to store this data for 2 years. It’s not just making phone calls though, the same goes for sending Texts and emails as well as connecting to the internet:

  • Time and date of your text
  • Who you were texting
  • Which phone tower you connected to when the text was sent
  • Time and date of when you sent the email
  • The size of your email
  • The recipient of your email
  • What time you connected to the internet
  • How long you were connected to the internet
  • Your IP Address
  • Your location at the time of connection
  • Volume of uploads and downloads

Take a look at this link to see an example of what metadata retention looks like.

If it isn't already blatantly obvious - the main problem that we have here is the invasion of privacy and overall mass surveillance of the Australian population.

As you can imagine this brought upon much outrage from notable public figures at the time that this legislation came into effect; including Greens Senator Scott Ludlum

“If you’re not doing anything wrong then the government has no business going through your stuff”

seen in your parliament #RetainThis

A photo posted by Scott Ludlam (@scottludlam) on

Posted by [Scott Ludlum](

As well as Edward Snowden himself who had a number of things to say on the matter:

Ok I hear you, but what can we do about this?

There a few things that you can do to if you’re concerned for your privacy as an Australian citizen.

You can limit yourself and use only public wifi hotspots (these aren’t covered by the legislation and are therefore retention free).

You could get serious and switch over to using an anonymous web browser for your internet use, such as Tor.

You can go get yourself VPN (Virtual Private Network).

VPN’s are applications which create a secure connection across a public network (the Internet) by encrypting your data, allowing you to obtain an IP address from another location around the world. By using a VPN the only data that can be retained will be that you are using a VPN.

Though we recommend this method we suggest doing your research as there will be a number of factors which may impact your decision to use that particular service or not, these may include:

  • Do they charge a monthly access fee?
  • Do they keep data logs?
  • Do they cap your bandwidth?
  • Are they supported on your mobile device?
  • Are they transparent about their security policies?

You can find a lot more info relating to VPN’s by clicking this link here.

Currently we’re using PIA, which is one of the more commonly used VPN’s.

Though this new legislation seems rather scary for the average citizen, I’d say you probably don't have all that much to worry about just yet. A recent survey by Communications Alliance found that 84% of telecommunications companies aren’t yet prepared to store this amount of data from their customers, most of them aren’t even sure what data they are even supposed to be collecting and the majority are actually requesting exemptions from the legislation.

So… how safe do you feel? Do you think these new laws help to make us safer, or hinder us?