Australian consumers could be paying more than $10 a month extra – $130 a year – just for internet access under the Government’s data retention plan, announced yesterday by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, as part of new counter-terrorism laws.
Modelling by Australia’s second biggest internet service provider, iiNet, on the expense of retaining metadata for two years will cost the company an additional $130 million a year – $10 million for electricity alone – which will be passed on to consumers.
The Prime Minister has said the plan involves retaining no more information than phone companies and internet providers already collect for billing.
“We are saying keep the information that you currently collect; don’t stop collecting this information and retain it for a couple of years,” Abbott said.
But a four-year-old briefing paper prepared by the Attorney-General’s department, when the ALP proposed data retention, is still on the table and seeks to scoop up much more metadata – the when/where/how long details – and iiNet’s chief regulatory officer, Steve Dalby, says that the government’s plan still lacks clarity in terms of what needs to be retained.
“If it’s only telephone billing information. It’s not a significant amount of data,” Dalby said. “The community has an expectation that data is kept anyway.”
“But the Attorney-General’s department has never retracted that 2010 briefing, so it’s a confusing message from different departments and the Prime Minister.
“If I can take the Prime Minister’s comments at face value, I’ll shut up and go away.”
While the PM says the metadata is “the front of the envelope” not the contents, Dalby says that in many instances, the contents are part of the metadata.
Last month in iiNet’s submission to a Senate committee’s inquiry into the issue Dalby said “This data can reveal even more about an individual than the content itself”, pointing out a recent Wall Street Journal article which revealed that while Twitter users can only use 140 characters, there are 150 points of data in a single tweet.
About 18 months ago, iiNet put the cost of retaining metadata at $5 per user per month, but the exponential growth in internet data has seen the estimated cost more than double since then.
iiNet produced the infographic above explaining the massive amounts of information involved under the Attorney-General’s department’s proposal. Just for iiNet, it’s one petabyte – that’s 1 million gigabytes – daily. iiNet has about 15% of the Australian market, so extrapolating, the nation generates around 7 million gigabytes of metadata a day.
The other issue is security, as recent hacks, including the Russian hackers stealing one billion accounts, revealed today.
iiNet is worried about security, telling the Senate that “if we are ultimately compelled by law to collect such data, the government must be responsible for its storage and protection.”
Dalby points out that countries which have gone down the data retention path, such as Denmark, have now “decided it’s all too hard – there’s too much data”.
“Other countries are saying it’s constitutionally unacceptable. Even countries that practiced Police State policies have made it illegal,” he said.