Australia puts forth blueprint for data history collection

Data about phone and computer use will be kept by telecommunications companies for two years if a bill introduced to the Australian parliament is passed.

The government today introduced its Data Retention Bill in a surprise move.

The bill would give law enforcement agencies access to two years’ worth of customer “metadata” without a warrant.

The government says the laws could be used to target illicit downloading of movies or music, and make it easier to identify suspected paedophiles.

“Access to metadata plays a central role in almost every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage, cyber security, organised crime investigation,” Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told parliament.

He said criminal investigations had been hampered by authorities’ lack of access to metadata.

The bill does not clearly define metadata but the government said it would not include the content of calls or emails, web browsing history or website addresses.

At a press conference, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said the scheme would help crack down on online copyright infringement.

“Illegal downloads, piracy, cyber crimes, cyber security, all these matters – our ability to investigate them is absolutely pinned to our ability to retrieve and use metadata,” the commissioner said.

The bill is the second part of the government’s national security reforms. On Wednesday, the Senate passed its “foreign fighters” bill that will allow the government to suspend passports at short notice and make it an offence to travel to certain areas without a valid reason.

There are concerns the bill would impinge on people’s privacy but Attorney-General George Brandis said at the press conference the bill was not about granting security agencies greater powers.

“It is about consistent laws about metadata,” he said. Mr Turnbull added that the bill did not aim to create new classes of data to be retained.

The Greens, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm and independent Senator Nick Xenophon are not expected to support the bill. The Labor party wants more community consultation before the bill is passed.

Reporting intelligence operations

Meanwhile, Mr Brandis has sought to address concern that a new law carrying a prison term for those revealing information about certain secret operations – known as “special intelligence operations” – could hit journalists.

The attorney-general said the move was aimed at “a Snowden-type situation”, referring to the US National Security Agency whistleblower who leaked classified information.

The law has sparked major concern from Australian media outlets.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten on Wednesday wrote to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, saying the legislation had the “potential to impinge upon public interest reporting on national security issues”.

Mr Brandis said a safeguard would be added giving the attorney-general of the day a veto over prosecutions of journalists.

“It’s a very powerful, practical safeguard for a minister, who is a practising politician, to assume personal responsibility for authorising the prosecution of a journalist,” he said.

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