It came as a bit of a surprise to many when the government-owned NBN Co was listed as one of the recipients for funding to build mandatory data retention systems. Just what could NBN Co need to keep, as a wholesale company that has no end users to spy on? Surely all that data would be held by its ISP customers?

We may never know. When we asked, we got a one-line response that said not very much at all:

“In line with federal government legislation, NBN [Co] will comply with the mandatory data retention obligations required of relevant Australian communications service providers.”

When pushed as to what the company might retain, we were told that if NBN Co were to disclose the application for the document it “may breach section 187L of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979″.

We looked up the section of the act and found that the so-called commercial-in-confidence clause (one NBN Co is often fond of using to escape transparency) applies only to how the Attorney-General’s Department and the ACMA handle the applications, and there is nothing to prevent NBN Co from releasing its application, or stating what it actually needs to keep that law enforcement might want to access without a warrant.

In lieu of any hope of direct transparency from Australia’s largest public infrastructure project, Crikey has filed a freedom of information request for the original application for data retention money.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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