Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014

30 October 2014

Joint media release

Senator the Hon George Brandis QC

Minister for Communications
The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

The Government has introduced the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 (the Bill), an important next step in giving our law enforcement and security agencies the tools they need to keep Australia safe.

The Bill will require Australian telecommunications companies to keep for two years a limited set of metadata which is information about the circumstances of a communication as opposed to the content of a communication. It is defined by the Bill by reference to the following six types of information: the identity of the subscriber to a communications service; the source of the communication; the destination of the communication; the date, time and duration of the communication; the type of the communication; and the location of the equipment used in the communication. For the avoidance of doubt, the Bill makes it explicit, by subsection 187A(4), that nothing in the Bill requires a service provider to keep information about the content of a person's communication and specific provision is made to exempt web-browsing history from the scope of the Bill.

This Bill does not provide any additional powers to law enforcement or intelligence agencies, nor does it give them any capacity to access metadata beyond what they already have. The Government will, however, significantly reduce the range of agencies which can access metadata to those with a clear need, such as law enforcement and security agencies.

The Bill was introduced into Parliament this morning and will be referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) for review.

Metadata is vital to nearly every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage, cyber-security, organised crime, murder, rape, kidnapping, child sex abuse and child pornography investigation.

Changes in business practices and developments in technology mean that many telecommunication companies are not retaining some types of data or are not retaining it for long enough to enable our law enforcement and security agencies to investigate and prosecute serious crimes.

Australia's law enforcement and national security agencies have advised the Government that their investigative capabilities are at risk of being significantly degraded because of these developments.

It is the role of Government to ensure that our law enforcement and security agencies have access to the tools they need to do their job. There is a real risk that if we do not act, our agencies will ‘go blind' and their ability to investigate criminal conduct and threats to our national security will be diminished.

Telecommunications companies will have up to two years to fully implement the scheme. To prevent any further erosion of data, industry will be required to at least maintain their current practices for holding data during the implementation period.

The Government has consulted with industry on the proposed scheme. This consultation will continue with the establishment of a joint Government-Industry Expert Working Group, which will be chaired by the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department. The Director-General of Security and Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police will be co-Deputy Chairs. This group will discuss implementation, costs and further refinement of the draft data set.

The Government is prepared to pay a reasonable share of upfront capital costs associated with the implementation of the data retention scheme.

Importantly, the Bill expands the existing oversight and safeguard arrangements consistent with recommendations from the bipartisan PJCIS report tabled in June 2013. Those oversight mechanisms include:

  • The Commonwealth Ombudsman will be given powers to inspect access to, and the use of, telecommunications data by Commonwealth, State and Territory enforcement agencies to ensure their compliance with the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act;
  • The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security will inspect and report on ASIO's access to data;
  • The Privacy Commissioner will assess industry's compliance with the Australian Privacy Principles, and monitor its non-disclosure obligations under the Telecommunications Act. The Attorney-General's Department will include information on the operation of the scheme in its annual report; and
  • Commonwealth law enforcement and security agencies are answerable to the Parliament, including through the PJCIS and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement.

The Government is determined to do everything it can to keep Australia safe in this heightened threat environment. This Bill is an essential part of the Government's national security reforms that will give our law enforcement and intelligence agencies the tools they need to fight crime and terrorism.