Thursday, 30 October 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Communications. Will the minister inform the House of measures the government is taking to ensure that security agencies have adequate resources and cooperation from telecommunications companies in prosecuting serious crimes and threats to Australia's national security?
I thank the honourable member for his question and note his chairmanship of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, to which the bill that I introduced into the House this morning has been referred.
In 2013 the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security concluded that there was a diminution, a reduction in the availability of metadata to enable our law enforcement agencies to do their work of protecting us from criminals—criminals in both the run-of-the-mill sort of line of work and also, of course, terrorism. Metadata does not include the content of communications, and it is absolutely critical that we make this clear. For many years—
Mr Perrett interjecting—
for decades—the police and the intelligence agencies have been accessing metadata from telephone companies, which have kept for billing purposes for a long period the details of the A party, the B party, the time of call, the duration of call and so forth. And internet service providers have routinely kept details of the IP address that is allocated to users, to subscribers when they go online. Having access to that information is absolutely critical in law enforcement, and what we are doing with this bill is not adding new classes of data that needs to be retained but simply ensuring that those classes of metadata which have been accessed for years will continue to be available; because, as more and more of the telecommunications business goes over the top—goes over IP—less of that material needs to be kept for billing purposes.
So what we are simply seeking to do—one can quote that great Italian writer Lampedusa's novel The Leopard, where the Count says 'everything has to change so that everything can stay the same'. The fact is that, if we want our intelligence agencies to be able to have access to the material they have always had, then we have to have this data retention change. All this is seeking to do is to ensure that those types of metadata will be retained for two years.
I want to stress to honourable members that, while this will include the customer IP address—that is to say the number that your computer is allocated when it goes online—it does not include retaining the details, the IP addresses or the URLs of any of your web browsing or online activity. So the metadata relating to what you are doing online is not being retained for two years. Several years ago that was a matter of very real concern—and legitimately.
So this is a very limited class of data that is going to be retained for two years, and it is absolutely essential that we make those changes to ensure that the police and the security agencies can continue to do their work.