The Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, has stated that police investigations would be unable to create a picture of criminal activity without data retention laws.
Roxon made the statements in a speech to the Security in Government conference today in regards to a parliamentary inquiry into reforms in national security legislation.
One of the most contentious aspects of the proposals includes "tailored data retention periods for up to two years for parts of a data set", with every Internet users' entire Web history logged and stored for up to two years.
“We’re no longer just dealing with guards and gates, bombs and bullets when we talk about defending our nation and its secrets. We’re now fairly and squarely working in an online environment,” Roxon said. “And this has created a whole new dimension of both opportunity and threat.”
Roxon cited the murder of MP John Newman in 1994, stating it would not have been possible for police to reconstruct the crime scene without accessing call charge and mobile tower information.
“Many investigations require law enforcement to build a picture of criminal activity over a period of time. Without data retention, this capability will be lost,” she said.
“…The intention behind the proposed reform is to allow law enforcement agencies to continue investigating crime in light of new technologies. The loss of this capability would be a major blow to our law enforcement agencies and to Australia’s national security."
Roxon hinted that the laws would go ahead, in some form or another.
“I do want to reaffirm the intention of these reforms. We cannot live in a society where criminals and terrorists operate freely on the internet without fear of prosecution. We cannot allow technology to create a ‘safe haven’ for criminals, or a ‘no go’ zone for law enforcement,” she said.
The potential data retention laws is part of reforms into four pieces of legislation, including the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979; the Telecommunications Act 1997; the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979; and the Intelligence Services Act 2001.
While Roxon said she wanted to strike a balance between protecting privacy and equipping police and intelligence with tools to enable them to carry out their jobs properly, some in the industry have slammed the data retention proposals.
Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, has been a strong opponent to the data retention proposals, repeatedly stating that citizens should not be treated as suspected criminals.
"Data retention, as envisaged by the government, will entrench huge databases that can be mined for precise patterns of our movements, purchases, interests, friends, and conversations. This interception, copying, recording and disclosure of our data is a means to retroactively police the whole population. We are citizens, not suspects," Ludlam said in a statement.
He has also previously told Computerworld Australia, “[The government] say they’re looking to strike a balance between people’s privacy and the ability of spy agencies to surviel people, but they haven’t even attempted to strike that balance.”
Ludlam has also previously said the proposals had a “dodgy premise”.
Meanwhile, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and the Communications Alliance has detailed data retention reforms could cost the industry over half a billion dollars.
Acting Victorian Privacy Commissioner, Anthony Bendall, has also slammed the proposals, likening the data retention laws as “characteristic of a police state”.
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