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Telstra Warns Government Over Metadata Storage

The Australian government, helmed by Abbot, previously announced plans that would see internet providers and telecommunication companies forced to store the private data of their customers for two years. This metadata would include, but isn’t limited to, the customer’s name, address, date of birth and financial information.

While the government claim this is a security step, to try and counter terrorism, the proposal was initially met with sceptical reaction. At the time, iNett (one of the biggest internet service providers in the country) raised concerns that here hadn’t been enough briefing on the security procedures that companies should follow when it came to storing this metadata.

Now the nation’s largest telecommunications firm, Telstra, has issued a warning about the plan. Telstra has over 32 million customers, providing connections for phones, internet and email. They say that the plans would mean that the companies storing the metadata would become targets from hackers.

Telstra already keeps some metadata, of which the government currently often asks for access to. The firm work closely with law enforcement agencies and last year alone there were 85000 metadata requests. This figure is only growing each year.

Mike Burgess, Telstra’s chief information security officer, told a parliamentary committee who is investigating the bill that storing all this metadata for long periods of time would be a “pot of gold” for hackers looking for customer information.

“The issue here is now we're advertising that for a customer of Telstra, there's a whole range of data, depending on what services they have, that we made available, or [which] can be made available upon lawful request for two years,” he said.

Although the company does currently keep some customer data, the mandatory rules would force them to keep the data longer than they already do. Not only would they have to store this data, but they’d need to build a new system in order to support it and send it to law enforcement when necessary.

Concerns were also raised during the committee over the spy agency ASIO, who the intelligence community’s watchdog claim are keeping metadata for longer than they should. Vivienne Thom, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, said that their concerns were over data that is no longer of use to any investigation that is still being stored.

When asked by Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Thom said she wasn’t sure if the information was now destroyed. She said that ASIO could theoretically keep the data for as long as they wanted, though Dreyfus asked her to investigate and confirm this with ASIO.

“[It] could mean you've got this ever-growing database that ASIO could be cross referencing on an ongoing basis,” she said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently wrote to the opposition leader Bill Shorten to urge them to expedite through parliament the new law, which still needs to be debated in the lower house. Abbott believes it is “absolutely vital” that parliament “crack on” and proceed with the legislation so that police and other crime fighting agencies have the information necessary to them.

“When it comes to fighting the dreadful scourge of terrorism, we're all in this together,” said Shorten to reporters. “But we do no services to the Australian people on their national security by rushing laws through parliament.”

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