That’s it. It’s done. No more talk. We’re officially getting a data retention scheme, because according to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, we need to get on board with “Team Australia” (ugh) to help fight terrorists both foreign and domestic.
In a joint press conference with other members of the Government’s National Security Council, Tony Abbott this afternoon announced that Australia would be getting a raft of new legislation to help spy and law enforcement agencies combat home-grown and international terrorism threats. One of those new laws will compel telcos and ISPs to store metadata on users.
The data retention scheme is set to be developed by Attorney General George Brandis in tandem with industry stakeholders like telcos and ISPs. There isn’t a huge amount of detail at this point as to who will store the metadata and how much it will cost.
“The question of cost is something that the government is currently in discussion with the telcos concerning,” AG Brandis added. One could argue that such a response to a question of cost means that the Government is interested in offloading the cost to ISPs and telcos.
Stakeholders such as iiNet have mentioned that the cost of a data retention scheme would likely be passed onto customers over time.
We likely won’t get the full breakdown on cost that until we see the legislation. Right now it’s being drafted by the Attorney General’s department. AG Brandis indicated that the legislation for data retention would go through the Parliament separately to the new counter-terrorism laws later on this year.
From the official press release on the new counter-terrorism proposal:
An effective counter-terrorism response includes the ability to identify and prevent known extremists from leaving Australia to participate in foreign conflicts.
We must be able to obtain and use evidence from overseas to prosecute extremists when they return to Australia and monitor and disrupt their activities at home.
George Brandis also mentioned that threats and hate speech on sites like Twitter and Facebook would also be encompassed in the new counter-terrorism provisions. That means that retweeting controversial terrorism messages might soon set off red flags with law enforcement agencies according to Brandis.
The ABC’s Lyndal Curtis asked at the press conference this afternoon if there would be safeguards in place to make sure innocent people aren’t “caught up” by the new terrorism laws, including data retention.
“There are a whole range of safeguards: we need to get legislation through the Parliament and while the Labor party has offered bi-partisan support for security, we will need to liase with them to get the legislation through. Democracy in the end is the most important safeguard.
“We also have the ordinary range of safeguards like the retained [Government security watchdog] monitor, the Joint Standing Committee on Security and Intelligence and we’ve got vigorous and independent courts which will exercise the usual oversight of Australia’s laws. The important thing here is to give us the tools that we need to ensure that people who are a serious threat to our country are appropriately dealt with. people who are ready to engage in horrific terrorist activity and stating an intention in many cases to engage in mass casualty terrorist activities can be dealt with in this country. The last thing any government should be relaxed and comfortable with is a mass casualty event here at home.
The short answer? No.
Other proposals encompassed by the Government’s new counter-terrorism legislation see the government lower its standards for approving search warrants in line with some states and territories, broaden the definition of terrorism, extend the offence relating to promoting terrorism, and expand the offence for training with a terrorist group.
Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, responded to the proposals a moment ago, saying that it needs to look at it all very carefully.
“It’s most important that in the pursuit of national security we respect the concerns of not treating ordinary Australians as criminals. There is complexity in storing information about 23 million Australians, and we must get the balance right between strong national security and the rights of our citizens. We will carefully consider these matters.”
“There is no doubt that our agencies need the right powers to fight terrorism and keep Australians safe,” Shorten said, adding that the Labor party will “carefully consider the proposals” following a briefing it was given this afternoon. Let’s not forget, however, that data retention was something that the Labor Party came up with and pushed for during its last term.
The Greens have vowed to fight the data retention proposals, with Senator Adam Bandt saying that such a regime would “treat every online Australian as a suspect”.
At the end of the day, Prime Minister Abbott says that new legislation and new programs, including data retention, are set to be used to prosecute terrorists and gain an all-important conviction.
You can read the full announcement here.