Shelved? No. Data retention will be back

Yesterday it was widely reported that the Federal Government had shelved its data retention plans, walking away from the controversial proposal to monitor all Australians’ communications. But the reality is the complete opposite: Data retention is still being actively considered as a policy and will shortly return to plague Australia once again.

If you believe most of Australia’s media outlets, yesterday the great multi-headed monster that is data retention was slayed by a cadre of victorious knights. Government shelves controversial data retention scheme, proclaimed The Age. Australian Government shelves data retention plans, wrote ZDNet. Govt shelves telco data retention scheme, added iTNews. Yup, there were plenty of footsoldiers waving flags in the air, their feet squarely planted on what they thought was the corpse of this long-reviled comprehensive surveillance project.

The only problem is, when you go back to the source material behind yesterday’s glorious proclamation and put it into context in terms of data retention’s wider history in Australia, it becomes clear that the project as a whole has only suffered a temporary setback in its progression at best, and that at worst, this week’s events have actually played right into its proponents’ hands. Things, if you’re a bureaucrat at the Attorney-General’s Department, are pretty much right on track.

The source of yesterday’s jubilation was two-fold. Firstly, the parliamentary committee which had been examining the data retention proposal as part of a much wider package of surveillance reforms, in a process known as the National Security Inquiry, had finally — at the last possible moment, in the last sitting week of the current Parliament — delivered a report into the proposed reforms, severely criticising the Attorney-General’s Department for its lack of transparency in developing the data retention policy, and recommending a wide range of transparency and accountability measures, as well as hard limits on its power, on the data retention idea — via

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