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 metadata.
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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