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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Australia Data Protection IT April 2015 Vol. 8, No. 31, Spring 2015

Alida Vandewiele


Alida Vandewiele is Legal Counsel at Bombora Technologies, based in Melbourne, where she advises on matters including IT and privacy. She has previously worked in-house for an online commerce group where she gained key experience in consumer protection disputes, information technology and telecommunications issues.

David Carrington


David is General Counsel at Bombora Technologies, based in Melbourne. He previously worked at Schillings, the London law firm specialising in privacy, and as in-house counsel at the BBC and Channel Four Television where he advised on broadcast and online

Bombora Technologies


Bombora Technologies has within it a number of operating companies including AusRegistry, the exclusive registry operator for the. au namespace; ARI Registry Services, the provider of technology, software and consulting to support the national domain name

Australia Data Protection IT April 2015 Vol. 8, No. 31, Spring 2015