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Australia mandates metadata is stored for at least 2 years

March 26, 2015

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s parliament has created a new law that will force Australian telecommunications companies and Internet providers to store customers’ personal data for the convenience of law enforcement agencies, despite questions over who will pay for it and how it will affect the work of journalists.

The Senate on Thursday night passed a bill that mandates that so-called metadata be held for a minimum of two years as a counterterrorism measure. The law, meant to help law enforcement agencies prosecute extremists who plot terror attacks online and through telephone communications, takes effect from 2017.

The opposition Labor Party supported the legislation with an amendment that requires investigators get a warrant to access journalists’ telecommunications records.

Metadata includes the identity of a subscriber and the source, destination, date, time, duration and type of communication. It excludes the content of a message, phone call or email and web-browsing history.

Media organizations remain concerned that the law compromises journalists’ ability to protect sources’ confidentiality.

Attorney-General George Brandis said on Friday his government would make a “substantial contribution” to the estimated 250 million Australian dollars ($196 million) a year cost to industry of storing the data. But the government had yet to decide how much.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday described the law as “vital.”

He said telecommunications records were used in 90 percent of counterterror and child pornography investigations and 80 percent of investigations into organized crime.

“By passing the legislation, Parliament has given our crime fighters the information they need to keep us all safe,” Abbott told reporters.

The minor Greens party condemned the government and opposition leader Bill Shorten for creating a law that the Greens say places the entire country under surveillance.

“This is the Abbott government pressing the terror button and Bill Shorten too afraid to stand up because they want a unity ticket on national security,” Greens leader Christine Milne told reporters.

In describing metadata, the government uses the analogy of traditional mail. The metadata is the information written on the envelope, not what’s written on the letter inside.

Several countries have laws on metadata retention. U.S. laws allow government access to metadata with or without a warrant.

Australian police say they already access metadata, but are concerned that many companies don’t store it for as long as they used to.

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