Following the passing of the metadata retention laws last week, telephone companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) now need to store all metadata for two years and make it available for inspection by 20 different government agencies including ASIO, the police, ASIC and the ACCC.
For people who do not wish their metadata to be recorded and stored, it is completely legal not to create metadata in the first place. The laws only impose obligations on the telephone companies and ISPs, not on consumers.
A number of apps available for phones and tablets allow you to message and call people without leaving a metadata trace. WhatsApp, Wickr, Viber and Skype and similar apps all work through the internet on your phone, not through your local telephone service so the metadata for the calls is not recorded. Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed that he uses such an app himself for security purposes.
Foreign email servers like Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail are excluded from the Australian metadata laws and are not required to store the data. However, even if they did, an Australian warrant would not provide access to it as the data is held in another jurisdiction.
No longer the closely guarded secret of internet “nerds”, VPNs basically relocate your internet in an overseas country which avoids the metadata laws. For current Australian internet users, it means that any metadata created while using a VPN will not be ‘created’ in Australia, will not be subject to the new laws and will be outside the reach of any search warrants.