Information-security implications feared as Parliament weighs data retention

As federal Parliament considers data-retention legislation introduced this week, a survey of Australian businesses has found that despite majority support for the move, businesses are concerned that slack controls will compromise the security of, and control over use of, that information.

Although some 64 percent of respondents supported the legislation, some 78 percent of respondents to the recent survey by risk consulting firm Protiviti said that any data-retention legislation needed to be controlled by strict requirements for court orders to access the data.

Some 88 percent of respondents said the only circumstances that would justify warrantless searches of this information would be in “high risk national security investigations such as terrorism cases”; 66 percent said it would be acceptable in serious crimes involving physical or community harm, such as murder or paedophilia.

Warrantless requests for information are already common, with Telstra's first-ever full-year transparency report this year revealing that during fiscal 2014 the telco acted upon 75,448 requests for customers information including 2701 warrant-based requests, 598 court orders and 6202 requests relating to life-threatening situations.

Legislation introduced by the Abbott government would force telecommunications providers to retain a range of metadata – information about the services they provide, such as date, time and duration of calls or Internet sessions, the location of the equipment used, or the IP addresses assigned to users at a particular time – for up to two years.

The Protiviti figures suggested broad support for the idea that metadata should only be accessible under tightly controlled circumstances and for serious crimes, although Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin was reported by the ABC as saying that the stored information could “absolutely” help authorities pinpoint the identity of illegal downloaders.

In addition to concerns about the terms of its use, some 62 percent were concerned that concentrating such large quantities of data – which is to be stored by telecommunications providers in systems whose establishment may be financially supported by the government – would increase the incidence of targeted attacks and cybercrime activity.

Some 87 percent said that telcos should be required to apply specific security standards to the information they hold. Over 1 in 5 respondents (22 percent) said they were concerned enough about the security implications of widespread data retention that they would reconsider their telecommunications arrangements if the new legislation is passed.

“That could involve implementing further communication security measures such as moving to default email addresses or encryption,” Protiviti managing director Mark Harrison said in a statement, noting that 32 percent of respondents to the survey said they expected the new measures would increase costs for their own organisations through higher telecommunications and ISP charges, increased compliance costs, increased data security costs, and knock-on costs from implementing business process changes.

“The direct and flow-on costs of these measures will ripple throughout the business community,” Harrison warned. “And while there is acceptance from some quarters that the costs are justified in the interests of national security, the government may wish to canvass less costly policy options or alternative funding mechanisms for companies directly affected by the measures.”

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

Tags TelstraTelecommunicationsAustralian Federal PoliceProtivitiParliamentAustralian businessesabbott governmentinformation-securityMark Harrisonpaedophiliadata-retention

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