The Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has stepped up her efforts to quell concern over data retention proposals by making public a three-page letter to the parliamentary committee looking into the proposals, following a meeting with the committee 13 September.
While Roxon wrote she did not have a model in mind for data retention, she reasserted earlier claims that the government does not want to retain the content of telecommunications data.
“Access to the content of communication is only ever carried out under warrants issued in accordance with the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. There is no intention to alter the requirement for warranted access to the contents of communications,” she wrote.
Instead, she frames telecommunications data as identifying information about the sender and receiver, the date and time of the communication, its duration, location and type of communication.
"Given the high level of public interest in this inquiry I intend to make this further correspondence to the committee, public," she wrote.
A parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security is currently carrying out an inquiry to consider proposals for reforms for telecommunications interception, telecommunications sector security and Australian intelligence community legislation.
Roxon has repeatedly stated she is not backing or opposing data retention proposals which are before the committee. However, she has consistently stated why Australia’s intelligence and police agencies need data retention laws in place, previously stating police investigations would be unable to create a picture of criminal activity without data retention laws.
In her letter to the committee, Roxon again gave examples where data retention has helped law enforcement agencies to solve crimes in Australia, such as a police corruption case and a murder investigation.
“For Australia, the principal argument in favour of a data retention scheme is to maintain our agencies’ access to a critically important source of intelligence and evidence,” Roxon wrote.
“Agencies have indicated that the need to access this information is immediate and that the eroding of such access is seriously affecting agency investigations.”
Roxon also highlighted the EU Directive in her letter, which asks member states to retain data for six to 24 months, stating the EU was forced to implement the directive due to terrorist attacks.
Making the letter public is just the latest in what have been several attempts from Roxon to quell public and industry concern over the proposals, which have garnered strong backlash.
Last week the Attorney-General turned to YouTube to broadcast a message about the proposals, with the aim of refuting claims by not-for-profit organisation, GetUp!, about the proposals.
“GetUp! claims that companies will be required by law to store every message you send, every website you visit, every conversation you have or product you buy for two years. This is simply not true,” Roxon said in the clip.
The tide against implementing data retention laws has been strong.
A joint submission by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and the Communications Alliance has detailed the data retention proposals could cost the industry more than half a billion dollars.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has also been a fierce opponent of the proposals, previously telling Computerworld Australia the proposals had a “dodgy premise” and the government was paying “lip service” while violating the principals of privacy.
Acting Victorian Privacy Commissioner, Anthony Bendall, has also slammed the proposed two-year Web and telecommunications data retention proposals as “characteristic of a police state”.
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