A group that represents Australia's mobile telecommunications sector has criticised comments by Prime Minister Tony Abbott about the cost of implementing a data retention regime.
Abbott said in a doorstop interview earlier this week that the "even at the highest estimate" the cost to the telecommunications industry of implementing a mandatory data retention regime is "less than one per cent of this $40 billion a year and growing sector".
"So, we're talking about a $40 billion a year sector and even at the highest estimate we've got, the cost of metadata retention is less than one per cent of the total sector," the PM said.
"So, it seems like a small price to pay to give ourselves the kind of safety and the kind of freedom that people in a country like Australia deserve."
The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association has issued a statement expressing alarm at what it says could represent a watering-down of the government's commitment to contribute to the cost of establishing the scheme.
AMTA cited a statement from Abbott during a 4BC interview when he said that "part of operating in this country ought to be maintaining the kind of data retention which enables our police and law enforcement bodies to do their job."
The government has previously indicated it would contribute to the cost of setting up a mandatory data retention regime, though it has not indicated if it will contribute to the costs of operating and upgrading any systems related to the scheme in the future.
How much the scheme is likely to cost and exactly how much the government will contribute have not been publicly revealed.
"We need to know how much this will cost," Labor's communications spokesperson, Jason Clare, said in a Sky News interview earlier this week.
"The [Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has] been briefed on this but the general public hasn't yet and we think that it's very important that the parliament and members of parliament know how much this will cost before they're asked to vote on this legislation next month," Clare said.
"Industry needs a supportive and responsive policy framework to reach its potential — not arbitrary cost slugs," ATMA's CEO, Chris Althaus, said.
"Furthermore, it appears the efficacy of the proposed data retention approach is also lacking given the recent acknowledgement that local industry will bear the cost of data retention while offshore over-the-top providers of services in Australia will not be captured by the scheme and, therefore, will not bear an equivalent compliance burden to meet data retention requirements."
Althaus was referring to comments by representatives of the Attorney-General's Department at a hearing of an inquiry into revision of the <i>Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979</i>.
The department acknowledged that metadata from use of services such as Skype and web-based email services provided by overseas companies would not be captured under the data retention scheme.