Metadata: what it means for you

Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has introduced draft laws requiring telecommunications companies to keep metadata for two years. So just what does it mean for Australian citizens?

What is metadata?

Data generated when you do anything online or with your phone. It's not the content of conversations, it's the digital footprint like numbers and times left behind.

What is the government doing?   

They want internet and phone providers to store everyone's data for two years. While law enforcement agencies already access metadata that is stored voluntarily, they want to make the storage mandatory, arguing it will help them catch terrorists and pedophiles. But it goes wider than that. Do you illegally download movies or TV shows? You could end up on the hit list.

Why do authorities want metadata?  

Dialogue is cumbersome to trawl through. Authorities get a lot more information in a much shorter timeframe by looking at metadata. Say a person makes a phone call and tells their partner they won't be home from work until 9pm. Hardly useful or reliable. But by looking at their metadata and pinpointing the call's location, authorities can see if that person is at work, at the pub - or somewhere even shadier.

Who has access to metadata? 

Police and government agencies. From ASIO to the RSPCA to local councils.

What can they see? 

Phone numbers

Time and location of communications

The IP address of computers from which messages are received or sent

Email addresses

Details of visitors in online chat rooms

Log times of internet sessions

What can't they see?

Dialogue or content in phone calls, texts, emails, social media, or chat rooms

Web cam videos

Internet browsing history

Are there concerns? 

You bet. There's already been controversial privacy issues. The Queensland Police accessed the private phone data of cadets last year. They were looking to see whether they were sleeping with each other and chucking sickies.

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