The Australian Parliament has passed a series of amendments to the country’s Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, requiring “telecommunications service providers to retain for two years telecommunications data (not content) prescribed by regulations.”
The two-year retention period equals the maximum allowed under the EU’s earlier Data Retention Directive that was struck down last year by the Court of Justice of the European Union for being “a wide-ranging and particularly serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.” This month, the European Commission announced that it had no plans to introduce a new Data Retention Directive, although Member States are still able to introduce their own national legislation.
Despite that move away from retaining communications metadata by the EU and continuing concerns in the US about the National Security Agency’s bulk phone metadata spying program, the Australian government was able to push through the amendments implementing data retention thanks to the support of the main opposition party. Labor agreed to vote in favor of the Bill once a requirement to use special “journalist information warrants” was introduced for access to journalists’ metadata, with a view to shielding their sources. No warrant is required for obtaining the metadata of other classes of users, not even privileged communications between lawyers and their clients. Even for journalists, the extra protection is weak, and the definition of what constitutes a journalist is rather narrow—bloggers and occasional writers are probably not covered.
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