And, according to Angus Fotheringham, group general counsel for Inabox, the metadata retention laws miss the point for which they were first slated by the government.
The new laws, which nominally came into effect last week, on Good Friday, were introduced two years ago by the federal government on the grounds of an urgent need to combat terrorism, and require telcos and ISPs to store metadata of their customers for up to two years.
"I think metadata retention laws are rubbish for a couple of reasons. The whole essence of the laws fundamentally misses the point, in that the data the spies want is primarily collected by operators like Facebook, Apple and Google,” Fotheringham says.
Inabox has now added its voice to the widespread industry criticism, by the likes of peak telecoms industry group Communications Alliance and Internet Australia, a particularly vocal critic of the laws from the day legislation was first introduced into parliament.
Fotheringham, in a statement issued a few days ago, stresses that the real burden falls on smaller companies that have to bear the brunt of the new laws.
“The government provided some capital cost to build the systems required, but there is no budget for ongoing operational costs. So fundamentally the laws are anti-competitive because they favour the big players over the small ones.
"We end up with a regime that allows the government access to huge amounts of data on its citizens. It's basically a huge Big Brother policy that Australia has walked into," Fotheringham says.
The Communications Alliance had urged the government to go easy on telecommunications service providers attempting to meet the 13 April deadline for complying. CA made the call after it took 18 months for the government to allocate grants to help the industry to comply with the law.
And, Internet Australia, the body representing the interests of Internet users, has been a constant and particularly vocal critic of the data retention laws.
Former IA chief executive Laurie Patton repeatedly described the data retention laws, and the legislation on which they are based, as “fundamentally flawed” and called on the government to hold an urgent review.
Patton had said all along that only a minority of ISPs would be compliant by the due date, making the whole scheme of “dubious benefit for its stated purpose of combating terrorism”.
"International experience has found that data retention is of limited, if any, value in the fight against terrorism. Many European countries are struggling with or winding back their data retention schemes in the light of concerns for personal privacy rights. Yet we will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this questionable law,” Patton noted.
IA’s Anne Hurley, who replaced Patton as chair and chief executive, took up where Patton left off, reiterating only last week that the scheme is unlikely to fully achieve the federal government’s aims.
“The fact is the government doesn’t actually know how many ISPs there are, much less how to find them all. The Attorney-General’s Department received 210 applications for funding under the scheme and approved 180. However, it is widely believed there are more than 250 ISPs out there, possibly many more.”
Hurley maintains IA’s position, that the ability of the security agencies to create a mass store of everyone’s metadata is a prerequisite for the scheme to work effectively.
“If there are huge gaps in the data collection the value of the scheme will be severely diminished”, she said.
And, according to IA, the long-term implications of the Data Retention Act also include the potential for a loss of competition in the supply of Internet services, with Hurley warning the compliance costs of the scheme will be felt hardest among smaller operators.
"Our fear is that many smaller ISPs who provide niche (services), especially in regional Australia, are hit with another technical and financial hurdle that threatens the very variability of their businesses. Our ISP members are very unhappy and with good reason.
“We have a flawed scheme that will see consumers paying more for their Internet. If we must have a data retention scheme the government should properly fund it and make sure it will actually work.”