Police want data stored indefinitely, but compromise on two years

Police commissioners have appeared today at a parliamentary hearing, insisting that police need consistent legislation surrounding data retention in order to fully complete investigations.

Police commissioners told the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) that although police would like communications data to be kept indefinitely, they have compromised on a two-year period for data retention following negotiations with the Attorney-General’s department.

The PJCIS is currently carrying out an inquiry to consider proposals for reforms for telecommunications interception, telecommunications sector security and Australian intelligence community legislation.

Tony Negus, Australian Federal Police commissioner, told the hearing that while most police investigations go back one to two years, keeping data indefinitely would be beneficial to the police.

“We would certainly like to see this held indefinitely [so] we could go back and reconstruct issues or crime scene events that happened many, many years ago. But we understand that perhaps that’s not practical in the context of the costs associated with that,” he said.

Andrew Scipione, NSW police commissioner, also said two years was less time than the five years NSW police were originally pushing for, and that following discussions with the Attorney-General’s department, it was agreed that a compromise of two years would be sufficient.

He said this was also in line with European standards around data retention and “something we could live with”.

The committee also heard that the fast pace of change in technology today means the police force are being left behind. For example, smartphones mean data can be transmitted quickly and people are able to “overwhelm law enforcement resources” with the amount of information they can send.

“We think the technology has just sprinted away from the legislation and that if we keep going and keep going with incremental change, as we go forward a metre with the legislation, the technology goes forward a kilometre…” Scipione said.

“Our serious concern at the moment is that we’re not even holding pace. We’re falling behind and we simply don’t want to go in front of the legislation, for that would be nigh on impossible, but we really believe that we need to start keeping pace with what we’re dealing with here.”

The committee also heard today that instead of reforms to the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979, legislation needs to be rewritten from scratch.

“Reform of the TIA Act is strongly welcomed and the NSW police force suggests that to achieve this effectively the legislation perhaps need to be rewritten almost from scratch with broad law enforcement consultation and engagement,” Scipione said.

“I cannot stress enough that the government can’t afford to rush the reforming of this Act.”

The NSW police commissioner also likened data retention to a bank savings account, where the more information that is held, the greater the benefits.

“The longer you keep it, the more it grows, particularly in terms of importance. It’s a bit like a bank deposit – the longer you leave it the more interest you gain on it,” he said.

Like the police force, ASIO has also insisted Australia’s law enforcement agencies need data retention legislation in order to properly carry out their job.

However, the proposals have been met with strong criticism, with Pirate Party Australia stating storing metadata is a "massive tracking scheme" and is still spying on innocent people.

Acting Victorian Privacy Commissioner, Anthony Bendall, has also slammed the proposals and called it "characteristic of a police state”.

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