How will data retention laws cope with the Internet of Things?

Feb 11, 2015

Credit: plenty.r./Flickr, CC BY-SA

By Philip Branch

One of the many things that is troubling about the current Australian government’s metadata retention proposals is how rooted in the past they are, which could make them obsolete before they even come into force.

The Telecommunications Interception Act was first enacted in 1979, when telephony was the only widespread and available communications service. Updates to the act have really only been at the edges, keeping in place the assumption that communications is essentially telephony with a few additional services.

However, as has been pointed out many times before, modern communications is much more than telephony. Modern communications is used more and in many different ways by far more of us than was the case with the simple telephone. Yet interception is still built on a telephony model, most apparently in the continued distinction between data and .

Lawful interception of telephony distinguishes between “intercept related information” (metadata) and “call content” (the actual voice conversation). In telephony, metadata consists of the parties to a call, the duration of the call, any call forwarding and perhaps (in mobile telephony) the location of the parties.

In telephony, distinguishing between metadata and call content made sense. In modern communications it does not. Attempting to identify the boundary between what is and what is not metadata in the modern communications environment leads to all manner of contradictions and confusion.


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One comment on “How will data retention laws cope with the Internet of Things?”

  • I would like to have a trend that data can be captured, but only used on court order in a criminal trial.

    What happens now is like having some snoopy neighbour watching over your shoulder everything you do who on your computer then tells what she has discovered to anyone interested for a small fee.

    Tweet and Facebook would have to find some other way to fund themselves.



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