A government review of Australia's counter-terrorism strategies claims that whistleblower Edward Snowden's efforts to expose the mass surveillance operations conducted by the US National Security Agency and its 'Five Eyes' allies, which include Australia, have made "the task of maintaining a technological ‘edge’ over terrorists more difficult".
The Review of Australia's Counter-Terrorism Machinery (PDF) also indicates that in the post-Snowden era security agencies are more likely to encounter resistance when seeking to obtain user data from the private sector
"[R]elationships between intelligence and business have been strained, making it harder to access key data without legal compulsion," the report states.
"Terrorist groups also have a greater knowledge of the technological capabilities of national security agencies, making it easier to evade surveillance and monitoring efforts. Agencies need to use increasingly intrusive and sophisticated monitoring measures."
The report also says that although obtaining access to encrypted communications is a major challenge for agencies, dealing with the volume of unencrypted metadata accessed also requires "investment in new and unique tools, skills and innovation".
Snowden's revelations included claims that the NSA and other intelligence had access to user data collected by well-known technology companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. Another revelation was that in some cases NSA spyware was being installed onto networking gear shipped by a US company.
Abbott says mass surveillance scheme 'vital next step'
In a speech this morning based on the terrorism report's recommendations Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the government's data retention bill "is the vital next step in giving our agencies the tools they need to keep Australia safe".
"Access to metadata is the common element to most successful counter-terrorism investigations," the PM said.
"It's essential in fighting most major crimes, including the most abhorrent of all: Crimes against children. Again, I call on Parliament to support this important legislation. We need to give our agencies these powers to protect our community."
The government's data retention bill would force telecommunications providers to maintain for at least two years certain types of metadata relating to phone and Internet services.
Abbott has indicated he wants the bill to be pushed through parliament in March.
The proposed scheme is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
The PJCIS is due to report this month.
The attempt to speed the bill's passage has drawn criticism from industry, particularly since the country's three major telcos — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone — have indicated there is no danger of an imminent change to their data retention practices.
Abbott has previously linked the legislation to the massacre of Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris (although France currently has a data retention regime) and last year's Martin Place siege. The gunman at the centre of the siege, Man Haron Monis, was known to police and ASIO before the siege.
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