Attorney-General George Brandis has said that the government's proposed data retention laws "can't be and they won't be" used to pursue Australians engaged in online copyright violation.
"The mandatory metadata retention regime applies only to the most serious crime - to terrorism, to international and transnational organised crime, to paedophilia, where the use of metadata has been particularly useful as an investigative tool," Brandis told ABC's Q&A program last night.
The laws will apply "only to crime and only to the highest levels of crime," the attorney-general said. "Breach of copyright is a civil wrong. Civil wrongs have got nothing to do with this scheme."
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told the 30 October press conference at which Brandis and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull outlined the proposed regime that metadata was useful for pursuing "illegal downloads".
"I haven't even touched on some of the other range of crimes" that metadata was important in the investigation of, Colvin said.
"I mean any interface, any connection somebody has over the Internet, we need to be able to identify the parties to that connection.
"Again, not the content, not what may be passing down the Internet. So illegal downloads, piracy… sorry, cyber-crimes, cyber-security, all these matters and our ability to investigate them is absolutely pinned to our ability to retrieve and use metadata."
In an interview on AM the next day Colvin backed away, telling host Chris Uhlmann that "the government's introducing this [the data retention laws] to address vital needs of national security and law enforcement, not copyright".
"Copyright is essentially a civil matter," the AFP commissioner said. "This is about criminal matters. So we will be using it for criminal matters. The Telecommunications Intercept Act makes it very clear that we can only do this to enforce criminal laws. Copyright breaches are civil wrongs and that's not what we're interested in."