The Federal Government's data retention scheme, enacted in March 2015, will come into effect between 13 October 2015 and 12 April 2017. Our fact sheet covers what consumers need todata binary code abstract with police badge shaped keyhole know.

What is metadata?

Metadata, simply put, is 'data about data'. In telecommunications it is information about communications (e.g. the time a phone call was made and its duration), information about the people communicating (e.g. the sender and the receiver) including account and location information, and the device used. The scheme requires that service providers retain metadata but not the content or substance of a communication. However metadata can still reveal a lot of information about an individual and those they interact with.

The set of metadata that will be required is set out in the legislation.

How will your metadata be used?

It will be mandatory for telcos and ISPs to store your metadata for two years (some may have a business need for longer retention of some data). This metadata will be available to specified government agencies (such as law enforcement and national security agencies) upon request.

You will be able to access your own data and many service providers do some of this already in your ordinary bill.

How will it affect consumers?


We don't know how much a data retention scheme will cost to set up but in March the Government estimated it at $400 million to set up and $4 per year, per customer to run. It is expected that service providers will recover these costs through a combination of Federal government funding and an increase in charges to consumers. However, the Federal budget announced in May only showed planned Government contributions to be $131 million over 3 years, with no contribution to ongoing operating costs. Therefore it is likely that your monthly phone and internet bill will increase as a result.

Consumers will have the right to access data about themselves under the Privacy Act 1988. Service providers cannot charge for an application for access, but may charge a reasonable fee for providing access. Telstra has indicated it will charge nothing for recent data as part of the standard billing information, but for more detailed or longer term information they will charge according to how long it takes them to compile this information. We are yet to understand what the typical fee may be.

Securing your data

Once data retention comes into practice, you will need to keep your information secure. Your service provider may provide you with a password to access your own metadata: it is essential this be kept safely as metadata will reveal much about you. All of the devices on your account will also be included, so this can include your partner's, children's, extended family members', employees' and so on. Whoever uses the equipment listed against your account will be included. This means if you pay for your partner, friend or elderly parent's phone and it is listed as part of your account, then you will have access to it. Correspondingly, they will have access to your metadata if they are the account holder.

This may be especially important if you are a victim of domestic violence or other predatory behaviour and your account is under someone else's name, such as your partner's, and if you feel that this may be a problem, you should make arrangements for a separate account.

ACCAN is currently working with the NSW Women's Legal Service to improve the guidance material available to women's refuges and community legal workers on this topic.

Data protection

Service providers will be required to notify you if your data is accessed unlawfully - whether provided accidentally by the service provider to a third party or through illegal access (hacking).

The legislation requires that the data be encrypted, but does not specify any particular encryption or security standard to be complied with.

For more information on the Federal Government's data retention scheme, download the Word or PDF version of our fact sheet below.

Download: docACCAN Data retention factsheet FINAL.doc73.5 KB

Download: pdfACCAN Data retention factsheet FINAL.pdf387.4 KB

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