I wish journalists would stop personalizing the national security proposals – the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 – to Nicola Roxon, because I don’t think it’s helping.
Remember, for example, that the bill pre-dates Ms Roxon’s appointment to the Attorney-General post. It’s been around since the middle of last year.
Remember, for example, that whatever change has or hasn’t happened in Ms Roxon’s attitude, she won’t be in charge of the retained data. “Do you trust Nicola Roxon with your data?” is a lame question, even as a rhetorical device.
The reality is much, much worse: the data would have to be retained by telcos, not all of whom can be trusted with it. Australians think “Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, iiNet” and don’t realize the size of the sector – more on that later.
Finally: Remember that the proposals are supported by the opposition as well as the government. The opposition helped vote-down amendments proposed by Senator Scott Ludlam to try and protect Australians from having their data shared with countries that impose the death penalty.
If the lobbyists let the opposition off the hook in this debate, it will be a strategic error: a great deal could be achieved if the opposition were to take scrutiny of the bill seriously, instead of letting it through “on the nod” to protect its “strong on national security” credentials. But that’s not happening: instead, the focus is on the easy target.
Back to the scale of the telecommunications industry.
There are currently 191 licensed telecommunications carriers in Australia (according to the ACMA). There’s also more than 450 Internet service providers and more than 300 non-carrier voice services.
Under the government’s data retention proposal, all of these bodies would be required to store personally-identifiable and often sensitive information for two years.
Many of those 500-odd businesses (taking into account the overlap between carriers, ISPs and voice services) are too small: they won’t be up to the task of securing that customer data. I’d be much more worried about an easy-come, easy-go resale business leaking the data than Telstra.