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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2849

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (19:11): I also rise today to give my voice to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014. In dealing with this legislation, I think the most important thing that we can do in this parliament is frame this debate around reality. If you actually listened to those opposite you would think that they are going to vote against this piece of legislation. We need to peel back some of the hyperbole, some of the misconceptions and some of the fear-mongering that has surrounded what is a very moderate, sensible piece of legislation. But those on the other side cannot help but politicise. There was a case in point the other night with the member for Perth's contribution to this debate. Those opposite are out there spreading a lot of mistruths about this legislation, painting a picture drawn more from an Orwell novel rather than from the actual content of this legislation. We know that those opposite do not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

So let us begin with what metadata is and what it is not. I think the most important point that people should bear in mind is that metadata is not the content of communications. Metadata is not what is said on the phone call. No-one has any interest in listening to the sweet nothings you tell your significant other or the conversations you and your friends have about the weekend's plans. Metadata is not your web browsing history. If you are browsing eBay late into the night, no-one cares. If you are spending your work hours on Facebook, that is a matter for you and your boss; it is not something that this legislation deals with or that we are actually interested in. Metadata is not the content of your emails. This legislation does not concern itself with what you are writing in emails.

So what is it? Metadata is the information about the communication. It is the material that is already recorded by your phone company to send you out the bill. It is what you internet service provider would log to record when you are online and how much data you consume. This legislation will ensure that this information, which your ISP or phone company would keep for only a short time and in a variety of formats, is accessible to law-enforcement agencies, if needed to investigate a serious crime.

Metadata is something that is already used across a huge spectrum of criminal investigations. People planning terrorism, conducting espionage or trading in illegal material leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs. Modern business practices mean that this information is not being stored for as long as it used to be. This is what this legislation is about: record keeping and preserving the data that already exists.

This legislation will ensure that if the Australian Federal Police or some other law enforcement agency needs to follow those digital crumbs to stop a crime or to catch a bad guy the information will still be there and it will be in a format that can be read. This is about record keeping, not surveillance.

Those opposite need to read the legislation a bit more clearly before jumping to conclusions. They need to understand what metadata is, what it is not, and engage in the argument on that front. We have seen a lot of hype, we have seen a lot of hyperbole, and we have seen straw-men appearing left, right and centre. This bill is not about thought crime and it is not about mass surveillance. It is about preserving some very basic data—data that already exists—in a usable form for serious crime investigations.

Going back to the origins of this bill, communications companies—phone networks, internet service providers, and social media and email websites—all store metadata. It is essential to their business. It is the information that has been used for as long as we have had these types of communication. It is used to manage networks and it is used to collate bills. The problem that has arisen is that these businesses are not retaining the data for as long as they used to. The bipartisan Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security concluded that this has resulted in 'an actual degradation of investigative capabilities of national security agencies'. So, a bipartisan committee says that in losing these records we are losing a tool, a very useful tool, in the fight against crime, terrorism, and child exploitation. This bill will create a consistent standard of record-keeping across our telecommunications industry. It will ensure that the trail of digital breadcrumbs the AFP may need to track down a jihadi recruiter, a hate preacher, someone organising serious fraud, or to stop an act of child exploitation from happening, still exists.

Now that we have defined what is actually in play here, I would like to mention to the House some of the safeguards that this legislation includes—the checks and balances that will ensure that the bill before the House today is used for its intended purposes and that individual privacy is preserved. The Privacy Commissioner already has a number of powers relating to compliance with the Privacy Act, and none of that will change. I will tell you something that will change. Fewer organisations will be able to access your communications data—fewer than currently can. This bill will actually tighten up the privacy requirements around metadata. Given the right circumstances, currently around 80 agencies could access your communications metadata. Once this legislation is in place that number will fall. It will go from around 80 organisations to around 20. For the first time, the Commonwealth Ombudsman will have an oversight role over any federal, state or territory agency that accesses this information. To sum up the situation on privacy, we have the Privacy Commissioner still in place, we have fewer agencies able to access these records and we have a new level of oversight by way of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Much has been made of the impact this bill will have on whistleblowers and journalists. Again, the debate on this front has gone quite a long way from the reality of the situation. The bill does nothing to repeal whistleblower protections already in place. The bill does not roll back any privacy laws with regard to whistleblowers and it does not remove any of the protections afforded to them. In fact, the bill has additional safeguards in place for journalists, including reducing the number of agencies that can access metadata and restricting access to where it can be used in a criminal trial or a pecuniary matter. It cannot be used to identify sources or leaks unless laws have been broken.

Earlier, I spoke about the work of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. I mentioned the very diligent work of that bipartisan committee, which got us to the position that we are in here today to debate this bill. They released a report on this bill late last month, and remember that this is a bipartisan committee. The committee included Labor Senators Conroy, Faulkner and Wong, and Labor members of this chamber—the member for Blaxland, Jason Clare, the member for Isaacs, and the member for Sydney. I would also like to note, as other members in this House have, that a special thanks is due to the chair of this committee, Dan Tehan, the member for Wannon, who has done an exceptional job.

The report had quite a bit to say about the dataset; the way that this legislation should deal with this dataset; the agencies that should have access to the data; and the oversight mechanisms. This government supported all the recommendations of that committee. There were 39 recommendations and the government supports these. Recommendation 39 of the bipartisan report was that this parliament pass this legislation. With that in mind, I commend the bill to the House.