Senate data retention inquiry to be delayed

Australian Federal Police and Attorney-General's Department yet to make clear whether they will cooperate with proceedings

Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, will propose a Senate inquiry’s report into data retention and online privacy be delayed when Parliament next sits.

The inquiry into the “adequacy of protections for the privacy of Australians online”, headed by the Senate standing committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts, was initially proposed by Ludlam during June, with a request to submit a report by 20 October. The report was to investigate and provide opinions on the privacy of Australians online including:

  • Privacy protections and data collection on social networking sites;
  • Data collection activities of private companies;
  • Data collection activities of government agencies; and other related issues.

In a press release issued shortly after his proposal, Ludlam tied the inquiry directly to a new data retention regime proposed behind closed doors to internet service providers that could potentially see users’ Web browsing history and other information stored for use by law enforcement agencies.

“It is time the Parliament took a proper look at the degree to which the privacy of Australians online is being eroded by Governments and corporations alike,” he said.

However Ludlam, who sits on the committee, told Computerworld Australia that the Federal election and subsequent events had meant the committee did not have enough time since its instalment to adequately assess the issue.

“The committee hasn’t even yet met to decide whether, when or where to have meetings, and I think we could do with a bit more work in promoting the fact that the committee’s work is afoot,” he said. “The committees basically go into suspended animation during the [election] campaign so we’ve lost quite a bit of time.”

The inquiry has received 16 submissions so far from private companies and the offices of both the Federal and Victorian Privacy Commissioner. However, Internet service providers -  who are expected to comply with a new data retention regime proposed by the Attorney-General’s Department - have not yet publicly voiced their opinions to the committee or submitted a response. Neither have the Australian Federal Police (AFP) or the Attorney-General’s Department, it appear, though one of the submissions received so far is listed as confidential and does not reveal the name of the submitter.

A spokesperson for the AFP said that the agency would, "in consultation with other agencies, provide a submission to any inquiry on data retention". The Police have been involved in similar inquiries in the past, particularly in relation to cybersafety.

National manager of the AFP’s High Tech Crime Operations and Assistant Commissioner, Neil Gaughan, said this week the agency had already done “a lot of work” with the Attorney-General’s Department but said a new regime would have little effect on how the AFP curbed crime as police could largely source required information anyway.

“At the moment we’re satisfied that if the regime remained as it was today and into the future, we’d be satisfied that it would address our concerns and issues,” he said.

Computerworld Australia contacted the Attorney-General’s Department about whether it would make a submission or attend potential hearings set up by the inquiry, but did not receive a response at time of writing.

Ludlam said the delay timing was up for negotiation with committee members but would likely push the inquiry’s report back an extra two months in order to give the committees secretary time to complete administrative duties.

“It depends largely on how many hearings the committee decides to hold and it’s based a lot on the balance of who made submissions, how complex are the arguments, how long do we need to synthesis everything and that we still don’t know,” he said.

Some of the service providers present at the closed door meetings held by the Attorney-General’s Department told Computerworld Australia the new regime could result in those providers ”coughing up millions” to comply.

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