Chrissy Harris

Up to $400m cost to industry for metadata regulations

THE FULL cost of the Federal Government's proposed metadata-retention laws remains unclear, despite Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealing industry could face up to $400 million a year to implement the regulations.

Laws to force telecommunications companies to hold all Australians' "metadata" are being examined by a parliamentary committee before releasing its report expected next week.

But the committee has been hampered by the public servants refusing to detail what specific data would be retained under the scheme or the total cost to taxpayers.

The definition of "metadata" would be confirmed through regulations by Attorney-General George Brandis, not through legislation.

Public servants have told the committee the definition of "metadata" would be confirmed through a "working group" headed by Senator Brandis's departmental secretary.

But that working group is not expected to actually report the final form of what metadata would comprise until after the parliamentary committee reports its findings to parliament.

Industry figures from several telecom firms and internet service providers have indicated that the costs to the private sector for the scheme could be passed on to consumers.

While intelligence agencies have urged the bill be passed to help with criminal, terrorism and child pornography investigations; the bills have raised privacy, freedom of speech and other civil rights concerns.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has criticised the bill's provisions as overstepping the right to privacy, and the costs as a "$400 million tax", claiming there was little evidence from overseas data-retention laws of the benefits.

The bill was the third of three national security reforms the Abbott government has proposed, two of which have passed with Labor's support, including reforms that raised wider human rights concerns.

But Mr Abbott, under pressure within his party, said on Wednesday "the risk of losing that data" was "an explosion in unsolved crimes".

He said it would cost industry up to $400 million, but would not be drawn on the taxpayer's contribution.

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