Tuesday night’s Budget release confirmed something the communications industry has been worrying about for months.
The Government wants money to give to telcos to cover the cost of metadata retention.
The controversial metadata retention laws finally passed the Senate in late March. They’ll come in to force in 2017. Law enforcement agencies will be able to access two years’ worth of your metadata. This means things like call records, IP addresses, what times you’re online, and more. It doesn’t include things like your browsing history, what you post on social media, or what’s in your emails.
What’s included in the budget
Just $131 million has been allocated to help ISPs cover the cost of retaining data.
It’s a tiny amount, compared to what the government originally estimated it would cost.
The Budget Overview says that ‘The $131 million provided by the Government for metadata retention represents 50 per cent of the capital costs to be borne by industry, as estimated by PwC. In addition, $23 million will go to relevant agencies such as the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Crime Commission to cover ongoing costs relating to the implementation and oversight of the data retention scheme.’
In October, the government commissioned PricewaterhouseCooper to do a report on the cost of metadata retention. The Attorney-General’s Department website says that ‘PwC estimated the upfront capital cost of the regime to all of business to be between $188.8 million and $319.1 million’. They tried to put that in perspective by saying that the amount ‘is less than 1 per cent of the $43 billion in revenue generated by the telecommunications industry annually’. And that’s not even taking into account the ongoing costs.
The Overview also said that ‘Metadata is essential to most counter-terrorism investigations and for detecting and prosecuting other serious crimes.’ It then tried to explain the process with this super helpful ‘infographic’:
[Click to enlarge]
What a great use of Treasury funds, making that graphic.
What happens if the government doesn’t top up funding?
It’s possible that the government might not top up funding. But ISPs would still be obliged to retain data. So they would have to recover the cost of retaining the data from somewhere.
Most likely, they’ll raise their prices. And it’s not like the government didn’t see this coming. When the Senate was debating the data retention bill, A-G George Brandis said that ‘if there were to be no government funding, the average cost over 10 years would equate to between $1.83 and $6.12 per customer per annum, with a median price of $3.98 per customer per annum’.
So basically, you’ll be paying (through your ISP) for an invasion of privacy that neither you nor anyone else really wants.
Contributor, Markets and Money,
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