The country’s largest telecommunications provider, Telstra, is receiving almost $40 million from the government to retain its users’ metadata for at least two years, under the government’s Data Retention Industry Grants programme.
Telstra is one of 180 internet service providers (ISPs) around the country that are receiving $128.4 million in public funding to help out with the costs associated with implementing the government’s mandatory data retention scheme regime.
The recipients of the government’s grants include Optus, which has been allocated $14.8 million; Vodafone Hutchison Australia, which is receiving in excess of $28.8 million; M2 Group, with $1.6 million; nbn, which is claiming just over $1 million; TPG Internet, with $1.4 million; and Exetel, receiving $1.8 million. Telstra has been granted $39.9 million.
The programme, which began receiving grant applications from the country’s internet service providers (ISPs) in January, follows the establishment of the government’s mandatory data retention legislation, which passed Federal Parliament in March last year.
The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 stipulates that Australian ISPs are required by law to store users’ non-content telecommunications data, such as email addresses, phone numbers, the date and time of communications, and the duration of phone calls, for a minimum period of two years.
The measures, which are aimed at ensuring the country’s security and law enforcement agencies continue to have lawful access to data, became law in October 2015, with telcos and ISPs required to begin retaining the dataset required under the new laws.
Telecommunications providers were given up to 18 months to comply with the new legislation.
Most providers under the grants program are getting a public grant of 80 per cent of the data retention regime implementation costs, according to the Attorney-General's Department.
Service providers will receive 50 per cent of their grant immediately upon signing a funding agreement, and another 50 per cent when they complete their reporting requirements.
The data retention legislation has been touted by the government as a necessary tool for Australia’s security and law enforcement agencies. However, it has met with staunch opposition by some members of parliament.
Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam – one of the legislation’s most vocal opponents – has not only raised privacy concerns relating to the regime, but has also outlined the ease with which it could theoretically be circumvented.
"While implementation is both complex and costly to taxpayers and ISPs, the scheme is almost trivially easy to bypass for anyone motivated to do so,” said Ludlam when the laws came into effect.
“And there is no evidence – none – that these kinds of mass surveillance regimes have improved clearance rates for law enforcement or stopped the kinds of attacks that were supposedly the reason for the scheme being introduced.”
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