There's no need for the public and the press to get themselves overly excited about the government's proposal to introduce data retention legislation, according to ASIO's chief, director general David Irvine, and Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin.
The pair fronted the media today to attempt to clear up a mess largely created by their political masters, who have struggled to explain what telecommunications and Internet usage metadata would be retained under the scheme.
"There does seem to be a lot of speculation and alarm about violations of privacy and so on," Irvine told a Canberra press conference. ASIO has been accessing telecommunications metadata for "many years".
"All that we are actually changing, or seeking to change, is whereas that data was held by the companies for their own purposes ... on a commercial basis for billing or other reasons, we want that data now to be held in such a way that we can continue to have access to it in an environment where that access has begun to diminish a little bit," Irvine said.
"Our ability to access telecommunications call data not to observe minutely everyone's surfing of the Web or anything like that but our access to ability to access the what, where, when, and how of telecommunications ... is an absolutely crucial tool to the protection of Australia and the protection of Australians," Colvin said.
"The ultimate definition [of metadata] will appear in legislation, if the government brings legislation forward, and there is still discussio... of what is included and what is not, but from ASIO's point of view what we are seeking is to continue to have access to what we've always had," Irvine said.
There had been speculation that the data retention scheme would include individuals' Web browsing histories after Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney General George Brandis ventured their own somewhat novel explanations of the proposed legislation.
Colvin and Irvine backed communications minister Malcolm Turnbull's explanation, which is that the government will seek to have ISPs retain records of which customers were associated with individual IP addresses over a two-year period.
"In so far as an IP address might point to a website that's been visited — a URL for instance — that is content and is not permissible under a metadata authorisation. That is content that will require a warrant," Colvin said.