Data Retention Bill

What you need to know about the Data Retention bill

Joel Pringle, 31st March 2015

Last week, the Australian Parliament passed a bill into legislation requiring telecommunications companies to retain metadata records for a period of two years. There are specific parts of this legislation that relate to journalists and will impact community broadcasters.

About the bill

The Telecommunications (Intercept and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) bill passed into legislation through the Senate last week will force telecommunication companies to keep metadata for a period of two years, and continue to give government agencies access to that data without a warrant.

The effect of this is that new data sets of our personal information will be created and be accessible to government agencies. Metadata includes information that allows someone to know who you’ve called or emailed, where you were at the time, and the device or computer you were using.

Why it matters for community broadcasters

There was immediate concern about how this would affect journalists, especially around the protection of sources and whistleblowers on matters of public interest. In order to get the legislation passed, the Government was forced to accept amendments that seek to protect journalists. This includes requiring government agencies to seek a special warrant before accessing the metadata of 'professional journalists or their employer'. 

Whilst the warrant process is a small improvement on the original bill, its ambiguity and the inability for journalists subject to a warrant application to make their own case for public interest leaves us with ongoing concerns.

What is next? 

Community broadcasting contributes to Australia's open society and strong democracy. We are concerned about the impact of this legislation, and earlier reforms to the National Security Legislation that also affected journalists, on member stations’ role in contributing to an effective democratic process. 

In particular, the CBAA has been seeking clarification from the Government on the definition of ‘professional journalist or their employer’ and whether this includes the community broadcasting sector. While community broadcasters are regulated to ensure high standards and often produce content at the standard, or better, than that of commercial journalists, many are not formally employed. This creates a grey area that we're keen to clear up. 

As more information becomes available or is clarified, the CBAA will continue to inform member stations about the impact of these new laws on station operations. 

If you have any questions about this matter, please contact our Policy & Advocacy Officer Joel Pringle via email or on 02 9310 2999.

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