Data retention: the case for

Several companies and organisations have now appeared at four public hearings into intelligence and security reform proposals.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is currently conducting an inquiry into reforms to Australia’s interception and security legislation.

The inquiry relates to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979; Telecommunications Act 1997; Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979; and Intelligence Services Act 2001 and began in July this year.

One of the most contentious aspects of the terms of reference include "tailored data retention periods for up to two years for parts of a data set, with specific timeframes taking into account agency priorities and privacy and cost impacts".

If we had our druthers, we would have the material held indefinitely

Tony Negus, commissioner, AFP

Below, Computerworld Australia presents a selection of the arguments put forward in favour of the proposals.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)

Greg Tanzer, commissioner: “We note that the introduction of a mandatory retention period would not actually increase law enforcement powers in this field but it would assist in ensuring that the existing powers retain their utility and reverse some of the lost utility that has occurred in recent years as a result of telecommunications service providers no longer routinely retaining relevant information for as long as they used to.”

Tanzer: “Accordingly, we propose that consideration be given to enhancing ASIC's ability to receive and use lawfully intercepted information for the purposes of its investigations and prosecutions. To be clear, ASIC would like to have the ability to seek telecommunications interceptions warrants just like we can currently seek stored communication warrants if the interception is authorised.”

Police Integrity Commission

Michelle O'Brien, commission solicitor: “I cannot mount a strong case to you to extend [data retention] beyond two years. Two years is the period that has been on the table for a long time in terms of what would probably represent an appropriate striking of the balance.

"It is a timeframe that the law enforcement agencies have had quite a long period to get used to, and I think it is generally accepted that it represents compromise between what we would like in an ideal world and what we will probably have to live with once all the processes and the machinations have been gone through.”

O'Brien: “I can only repeat what I said earlier, and that is that two years will be a compromise for law enforcement. If we have to live with two years, we will, but more would be preferable.”

South Australia Police; Victoria Police

Noel Bamford, officer in charge, investigation support branch, South Australia Police: “From a South Australia Police perspective, telecommunications interception is a highly valued strategy for police investigating serious and organised crimes. From an operational perspective, it is a very cost-effective strategy. In terms of harm to the community and police, it is considered to be a very low-risk strategy.”

Jeff Pope, acting deputy commissioner, Victoria Police: “Without a telephone intercept capability, Victoria Police would be significantly inhibited from conducting many thousands of investigations every year. This would significantly decrease the number of offenders brought before the courts for serious criminal offences. Moreover, the level of harm to the community and the cost and impact of crime on society will significantly increase.”

Pope: “There is obviously going to be a balance here. We are not entirely sure where that balance sits and there will be many different views. From our perspective, we believe that we can better serve and protect the community the longer the data is retained. I think it is a matter as simple as that.”

Pope: “…there are no similar standards around how some of this very sensitive data should be stored, managed and protected. We have had some incidents where legal practitioners have simply thrown the brief of evidence in the bin and telephone intercept material has been found by a member of the public. So, when you look at the chain, all the focus is on the police – and we accept that – but there is very little outside of us.”

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