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Data retention now the law of the land Featured

Australian now has one of the most draconian mass surveillance regimes in the Western world. Yesterday the Senate passed the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014.

It means that from 2017 telcos and ISPs will have to store the as yet undetermined metadata of their customers; communications for two years at an as yet undertermiend cost to Australian consumers.

The Australia Labor Party (once known as the Opposition) combined with the Coalition and the sole remaining Palmer United Party Senator to approve the Bill, which  passed the House of Representatives last week. Amendments from the Greens and independent Senators seeling more stringent safeguards were rejected, with just 16 votes against the Bill – the ten Greens Senators, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir, and independents Jacqui Lambie, Glenn Lazarus, John Madigan and Nick Xenophon. Family First Senator Bob Day was absent.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the laws were “measured and proportionate.” He praised the Labor Party for supporting the legislation. “In dealing with national security issues, we do have to bring the public with us, we do have to get the balance right between protection and liberty.”

He congratulated the Senate for its “very civil and intelligent debate," he said: “Nobody could say this has been a rushed process. This legislation does contain protections that weren’t there before. It does preserve a capability for police and national security and commercial regulatory agencies which was on the verge of being lost. It does contain safeguards that weren’t there before.

“By passing this Bill, the Parliament has ensured that our security and law enforcement agencies will continue to have access to the information they need to do their jobs. No responsible government can sit by while those who protect us lose access to vital information, particularly in the current high threat environment.

“At the same time, the Bill contains safeguards to protect our cherished rights and liberties, including through the establishment of additional oversight mechanisms covering the security and law enforcement agencies.

“Metadata is the basic building block in nearly every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and organised crime investigation. It is also essential for child abuse and child pornography offences that are frequently carried out online.

“A victim’s right to justice, and agencies’ ability to solve crimes, shouldn’t depend on which service provider is used by the victims and perpetrators.

“The Bill ensures that telecommunications providers will be required to retain a defined set of data for a period of two years. This will substantially improve the availability of data should it be necessary for a particular investigation.

“The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) examined the Bill at length and concluded that the Bill is /a necessary, effective and proportionate response to the serious threat to national security and public safety caused by the inconsistent and degrading availability of telecommunications data’.

“We also recognise that the right to privacy and the principle of freedom of the press are fundamental to our democracy. For these reasons, the Bill contains new and strengthened safeguards. These include the provision of new oversight powers to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, a reduction in the number of agencies accessing metadata from over 80 to 21, and specific protections for journalists and their sources.”

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the Government had passed a law which “entrenches a form of passive surveillance over 23 million Australians. The majority of the Australian people are not satisfied with the Government’s lunge for power. Surveillance in a democracy should be targeted, proportionate and levelled at serious criminals, organised crime and national security threats; this bill entrenches the opposite."

Labor senator Jacinta Collins denied the ALP party had caved in on the laws. "Mandatory data retention is not mass surveillance,” she said.

Libertarian Senator Leyonhjelm had campaigned unsuccessfully to extend protections to the lawyer-client relationship. He condemned the bill and criticised the Senate’s failure to support the Green and independent amendments.

High profile independent Senator Xenophon said the data retention laws would, “like a python, further put the squeeze on investigative journalism and whistle blowers in this country.”

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

 

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