– by Hanifa Abdiraihan
The amended data retention laws were passed in Canberra earlier today, with Independent MPs Cathy McGowan and Andrew Wilkie, as well as Greens MP Adam Bandt the only three nays in the chamber.
The laws – also called the metadata bill – will require telecommunications service providers to retain metadata for two years. Among the information companies will be obligated to keep is identification information, such as address, contact and billing details; the sender and receiver of any communication sent or while connected to the provider; as well as the date, time, and location of said communication.
The legal document asserts that the content data itself, such as the actual email, text message or phone conversation, will not be open to access without explicit consent. However, the bill has attracted much controversy for the far-reaching capabilities it grants to national law enforcement and security agencies.
The measures outlined in the bill were aimed to “support Australian law enforcement and security agencies in the performance of their functions”.
Federal MP Wilkie, in his speech to Parliament on Tuesday, called the stance of the government a “slippery slope” and repeatedly questioned where to strike the balance.
“This is an unprecedented extension of the power of the state,” he said.
“Not even in the United States have they contemplated such a remarkable extension of the power of the state, and most countries in Europe have balked at going anywhere near this.”
Wilkie then quoted a total of 290,358 for times federal and state security agencies accessed metadata without a warrant in the fiscal year of 2011-2012, the figure rising to 319,874 in the next fiscal year.
In a video conference at London’s FutureFest on Monday, Edward Snowden said that the metadata laws were “not public safety programs. They’re spying programs”.
It is of note that law enforcement and security agencies were previously already able to access metadata without warrants during criminal and intelligence investigations.
Changes to the bill which earned Labor’s backing include the provision that any requests from agencies to access journalists’ metadata were to be accompanied by lawyers to argue the public interest case in front of judges or the attorney-general.
When asked to clarify the definition of a journalist, especially in the case of bloggers, Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull’s answer was any journalist “working in a professional capacity”.
Measures made in the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill, which was passed at the end of last year, allow ASIO to search any network – including all of the Internet, without defined restrictions – with a single warrant.
The Act also made disclosure of intelligence information, including whistleblowing and journalistic reporting in public interest, punishable by up to 10 years of prison.
Photo credit: gabitogol / Flickr