Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has postponed any decision on potential legislative changes mandating a data retention regime, following the release of a Parliamentary report examining potential reforms to Australia’s National Security legislation.
“Accordingly, the government will not pursue a mandatory data retention regime at this time and will await further advice from the departments and relevant agencies and comprehensive consultation,” Dreyfus said in a statement.
On Monday, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security released a detailed report which includes 43 recommendations outlining a security framework, which the government now intends to “carefully consider” before making a decision, according to the statement.
The Committee has not made a definitive recommendation as to whether the Australian government should pursue a data retention regime, but only highlights the possibility of making retention of the “relevant data” mandatory for carriers and carriage service providers.
Under the provisions of the current regime, Australian enforcement agencies can access certain communications data under part 4-1 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, however access to the actual content of this communication is prohibited except under a warrant.
The communications data that can currently be accessed includes subscriber information; telephone numbers of the parties involved in the communication; the date and time of a communication; the duration of a communication; Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) to the extent that they do not identify the content of a communication; and location-based information, according to the Committee report.
“I welcome the Committee’s support for a security framework for the telecommunications sector to ensure that it is robust and resilient and I note that the Committee has recommended a Regulation Impact Statement be developed that takes into account regulatory overlap and impacts on competition,” Dreyfus said.
The statement also claimed that all communication interception activities and access to telecommunications data carried out by Australian government agencies are conducted in strict accordance with Australian law.
The announcement comes at the heels of media reports about an extensive data surveillance program being carried out by the U.S. government that can allegedly access American citizens' phone and Internet communication records.
In Australia, “the next, important step will be to develop a package of detailed measures for further public consultation,” he said.
Following major technological changes of the last few years, the government referred potential changes to national security laws to the Parliamentary committee for inquiry early last year.
“The current interception regime is over 30 years old. Reviewing the legislation to ensure it contains necessary, effective, proportionate powers consistent with our international human rights obligations and privacy protection will require much more discussion before any reforms can be introduced into Parliament, Dreyfus said.
“The recent events in Boston and London highlight the ongoing threat of terrorism and the need to ensure our intelligence agencies have the tools they need to keep Australians safe and secure.
The Parliamentary committee received 240 submissions, 27 exhibits and conducted a number of public and classified hearings, in relation to the report which took over a year to complete, according to the statement.