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Today Australian telcos start storing metadata -- Here's what that means for you

Today Australian telcos will start storing customer’s metadata for up to two years.

This includes information relating to people’s email, internet, mobile and landline use.

Under the new laws, aimed at targeting terrorism activity, the information collected can be accessed without a warrant — meaning law enforcement agencies can access the data without a magistrates approval.

A spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis told the Huffington Post Australia that the new laws are critical to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

“Metadata is the basic building block in nearly every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and organised and major crime investigation,” he said.

“It is also essential for child abuse and child pornography offences that are frequently carried out online.”

However, as the HuffPost points out, the list of organisations allowed to use this data without a warrant is broadening.

In May, Border Force was granted the power to access the metadata stored under Data Retention laws despite the Coalition previously insisting that the bill would “strictly limit and indeed reduce” the number of enforcement agencies with the ability to access retained metadata.

Now there are calls for the Australian Taxation Office to also be included.

However, should you wish to keep your data a secret there are ways to circumvent the system.

VPNs, or virtual private networks, encrypt all internet traffic between a user and the server therefore preventing their internet metadata to be seen by their telco.

Another way was suggested by Malcolm Turnbull during his time as comms minister.

He advised people to use third party instant messaging services rather than SMS.

“I use Wickr as an application. I use a number of others. I use WhatsApp … because they’re superior over-the-top messaging platforms,” he said.

“When I say over the top, what I mean is they’re travelling over the internet.”

It was revealed that Turnbull still uses these systems, even as prime minister which some say is potentially exposing private information to hackers or foreign ­surveillance. See more on that here.

The extended data storage is expected to cost taxpayers $131 million in set-up costs, while the government will pitch in an extra $20 million to be spent on related activities.

While the legislation comes into effect today, telcos can delay the start date by using what’s known as a data retention implementation plan (DRIP), which allows a service provider to delay implementing data retention for up to 18 months if the Attorney-General’s Department approves the delay.

According to telecommunications industry lobby group Communications Alliance, the vast majority of Australian internet service providers (ISPs) are not properly prepared for the roll out, with 84% of ISPs saying they are not ready to retain and encrypt the data as required under the Act.

The government expects full compliance by telcos by April 2017.

Still not ready yourself? Or too confused to understand? No worries. Here’s the best explanation of metadata we’ve seen to date to get you up to speed.

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