Telecommunications Data Retention Adjournment

I rise to speak briefly about the government response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security report on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014.

I had the pleasure of being on that committee. In fact, I have been on that for all three of the recent tranches of national security legislation, and this one has been another example of the bipartisan approach that this parliament has taken to the important area of national security. I welcome the fact that the government has decided to support all of the committee’s recommendations, which was a unanimous and bipartisan report.

This legislation is important to preserve one of the most important tools that our security agencies have in combatting a whole range of crime—from sexual offences, particularly against children, through to drug crime, counterterrorism investigation, cybercrime and counterespionage. There are a number of people who have raised concerns about this legislation, and a number of comments have been made about it.

I just want to dispel a few of the myths. One of the myths is that it is largely ineffective because there are so many other options for people to communicate, but the reality is that metadata is used, in almost every case, to solve serious crime such as murder, rape and kidnapping, as well as the others that I have mentioned. People have raised concerns that the government will be able to listen in to all of their calls and emails. Nothing has changed with regard to the material that is required to have a warrant. A warrant issued by an authority is required before law enforcement agencies can access the content of any communication.

There is a myth that the government will be able to look at everything that you are doing online, but there is a clear prohibition that the committee has put into its recommendations—which the government has accepted—that web browsing information will not be included in the data retention. The government is not collecting this information and storing it. It is being collected and stored by the telcos—the telecommunications providers—who already collect that information for their own business purposes. This legislation sets a common time frame that all of those providers must retain that information for.

The other concern people have had is about the range of agencies that can access this data—and that has been a valid concern. Under the existing regime not only groups such as ASIO, the AFP, the police, ASIC or the Crime Commission are able to access data; groups right through to the RSPCA or local government can access data. There is quite an extensive list. One of the features of this bill is that it limits the number of groups quite substantially, bringing it back to those who are dealing with serious crime, criminal activities, or crimes such as the ones that ASIC would look into in terms of corporate crime

There is quite a strict regime around who else can be provided with access to that data and, whilst in an emergency the Attorney-General can make a determination, it has to be passed within 40 days in legislation for that to take effect. So there are a number of safeguards put in place there.

I will give two quick case examples to demonstrate why it is important to have a common period for retaining this data across the telcos. In February 2014 the AFP received information regarding a person who was uploading suspicious photographs to an image-sharing website. Two IP addresses had been used by the suspect, and so the police submitted a request to the telcos to identify the user. One of the telcos retains data for a long enough period and they were able to identify the person. The other telco was one that does not retain data for long and it could not provide the other IP address the person used. In this case, the police were able to successfully prosecute that person. Go forward to June last year and a case where Interpol had advised the fact that a child, a baby, was at serious risk of sexual abuse. The telco did not hold the data, and so the police were unable to take action to protect that child. We need this tool in a consistent manner for our law enforcement agencies, and I welcome the government’s response. (Time expired)