I’m a VISP. What data do I have to retain?

It’s quite common for CSPs to “outsource” large parts of their service delivery to a wholesale provider, who will deliver all the functional aspects of the services they sell; including the Internet Transit, Access Tail, IP addressing, etc. An internet provider who does this is called a VISP.

Typically, a VISP will have some basic information about the customer:

  1. The billing and subscriber information of a service
  2. The physical location that a fixed broadband service is sold to

and then will receive billing summaries from their VISP Provider that indicates the volume of data that an end-user transferred in a given period.

A VISP provider typically does not have visibility of the individual end user sessions (in the case of an xDSL or NBN service) or location data (in the case of a MVNO operator). So what does a VISP need to do in regards to their DR obligations on these services?

Question 1 – are these services relevant?
The first question that needs to be asked is are these services relevant. In the scenario’s I’m discussing here the answer is definitely yes – these are internet access services delivered by someone who is a CSP or ISP as far as the Telecommunications Act is concerned; because they are billing a third party for internet.

Question 2- does the provider own or operate infrastructure in Australia?
If the provider owns “infrastructure” in Australia, then they need to consider their obligations. The definition of Infrastructure is quite broad – and includes things like billing systems and servers for applications. Even if you don’t own the infrastructure, but could be seen to be the one that “operates” it then you are covered.

I’m going to suggest that in the case of most VISP operators they are going to satisfy these two requirements for a significant number of services.

What data do I have to retain?
The starting point for this question is typically to review the data matrix to determine what data you would need to retain for each service. This includes:

  • The subscriber of the service
  • The source of a communication (i.e. the account, source telephone number, IP addressing details, etc)
  • The destination of a communication (i.e. destination phone number, terminating LAC with port identification details or any other identifier that you might have, but not “internet destinations”)
  • The date, time and duration of the communication
  • The location of the equipment or line used for the service

It’s clear that while VISPs have sections of this, there are probably significant bits of information in the data set that a VISP can not see.

The Attorney General’s Department has released an FAQ for Industry that states the following:

2.5. How does data retention differ between wholesale service providers, retail service providers and resellers? (NEW)

  1. A service provider is only obliged to retain data from the data set that it uses to provide its relevant service. The concept of having “visibility” can be useful in understanding what data a service provider must retain to meet its data retention obligations in relation to a particular relevant service.
  2. For example, data relating to an over the top email service is only retained by the relevant ove rthe-top provider.
  3. Contractual agreements can be used to define the boundaries between a wholesaler’s and retailer/reseller’s relevant services or for one provider to cause another provider to retain data on its behalf. The data retention obligations will remain with the provider who operates the relevant service.

One of the key aspects here is how the AGD has understood the term service:

1.4. What is a “service” for the purposes of data retention? (NEW)

  • The Australian telecommunications industry uses the term “service” in a number of ways. Some industry participants use the term “service” to refer to a commercial product that can be sold to a customer, such as “a mobile phone service”. The term is also used where many providers work together to deliver the final commercial product.
  • In the context of data retention, a provider’s “service” is the particular element of a commercial product that the provider operates.
  • For example, a voicemail product offered to a customer may comprise a telephony service that connects users to the voicemail server. An SMS service would alert users to the existence of a 12 voicemail message on the server, and the voicemail server itself. These services could be operated by different providers or the same provider depending on business models.
  • Providers need to take into account the commercial and technological context of a “service”.
    • While a wholesaler, retailer and reseller may all provide an internet access service, each of the elements is a different “service” for the purpose of data retention.
  • Understanding “service” in this way helps ensure that providers only need to keep data that relates to the service they provide (being data they have “visibility” of).

Based on this definition, the FAQs encourage service providers to define their services in such a way that reflects the visibility of information that they have.

The Case Studies in Annexure B (page 41) provide some really good examples of how this works in practice. These case studies take a traditional “3 tier” service aggregation model and provide an explanation of what the service/scope is for each provider in the tier. In your case your model could of course be slightly different.

Is that all there is to it?
One of the main concerns is the question of whether the AGD’s interpretation is correct. There is certainly a number of experts who have stated that the interpretation they have taken in the FAQ may be flawed.

Specifically, the definition of a service suggested by the AGD, while convenient, does not line up with any text of the law – and so a provider who relies on this advice to not retain information that they don’t have may find themselves in breach- and potentially in trouble when a law enforcement department requests data that they can not supply.

In actual fact, in other cases the AGD have clearly indicated that just because you don’t have access to the information or don’t normally require it, you are required to create it for the purposes of Data Retention – even if this means modifying your systems. If you ever found yourself in court trying to defend yourself for data you didn’t collect, you could potentially find that a judge who doesn’t understand the nuances of the technology agrees with the prosecuting party and issues a hefty fine.

The process of submitting a DRIP provides some protection for a provider, up until the point where the DRIP period of compliance has expired (at the moment 13 April 2017). After this point, the provider is expected to be fully compliant with the legislation.

What should VISPs do?
At this point, I would recommend VISPs (and all service providers) that find they have gaps in their data set submit a DRIP. The DRIP will provide an outline of how you, as a service provider, are intending to comply with the legislation. In some cases you may be able to negotiate with your upstream providers to provide you with more detail; for example individual RADIUS sessions, Location Data or IMEI number or a connected mobile device for each session.

You’ll need to self-assess what data you have access to, and what data you might be able to get.

Importantly, however I would also suggest that you specifically apply for an exemption for any data in the data set that you are not likely to be able to obtain. Once you have been granted an exemption for this portion of the data set then you are in the clear.

I can’t say for certain that the AGD would grant an exemption like this, but an exemption request that asks for an exemption on collecting the data requested by the matrix as it is out of the view of the provider, and specifically references their own definitions in Sections 1.4 and 2.5 of the “Frequently Asked Questions for Industry Version 1.1” … would be very hard to refuse.

Comment 1

  1. andrewyager July 31, 2015

    I’ve had some discussions as to whether the definition of Infrastructure I’ve provided here is correct (for example, including billing systems). For now, I’m following the definition suggested by the AGD – but it’s important to note that their definition may not be correct.

    If you only have billing infrastructure (for example, a computer and an Excel Spreadsheet), I would recommend seeking legal advice as to the correct way to interpret the definition of Infrastructure in the legislation.


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