What is Metadata?
Alida Vandewiele, Legal Counsel, Bombora Technologies, Australia
David Carrington, General Counsel, Bombora Technologies, Australia
Put shortly, metadata is “data about data”. Unfortunately, that definition tends to invite more questions than it may answer. The question of what constitutes metadata and how it is retained currently has various parties around the world wringing their collective hands.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the definitions of metadata and the relevant legislative frameworks in Australia, the United States and the European Union. By doing so, the author hopes to shine light on some fundamental questions that arise in the evolving debate surrounding metadata.
To regard metadata retention as a novel question would be misplaced. The issue has been contentious for many years and whilst certain jurisdictions have led the way, others are only more recently following. However, what is novel is the press attention that the issue currently generates. As an example, in the aftermath of the recent attack on a café in Sydney, there was suggestion in some quarters that prior access to metadata by the police or security agencies could have prevented loss of life. Similar claims have been made in relation to other events around the world. These claims in turn led to an extended debate over metadata retention, much of which was confused, and this confusion has the potential to compromise debate in the area, particularly if used for political ends.
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