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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3757


Senator LUDLAM (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator Wong. Is the government considering a scheme to force internet service providers to record the web browsing histories of every internet user in Australia? With whom has the government consulted on this issue and does the government intend to inform the public about its intentions at some stage?


Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —I thank Senator Ludlam for his question. I will endeavour to provide some information but I do not have the substantial amount before me. I understand that the Attorney-General’s Department has been consulting with industry in relation to the continuing availability of telecommunications data for law enforcement and national security purposes. Obviously, this data collection is a valuable tool which has occasionally, under both sides of politics, been used by law enforcement agencies to identify participants in criminal networks and terrorist organisations. Data might include information which could identify parties to a communication, where and when that communication is made and the communication’s duration, but I understand it would not extend to the content of the communication. Obviously there have been very substantial changes in terms of communications technology and the way in which telecommunications companies do business. The government is keen to ensure access to this data is retained in this new communications environment.


Senator LUDLAM —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her answer to my first question. Has the government costed this policy or is it intended that the industry will carry the cost of the proposal? What has the industry told the government thus far about the costs and technical implications of recording everybody’s web browsing histories?


Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —As I said in my first answer, the Attorney-General’s Department has been consulting broadly with industry in relation to availability of this data for both law enforcement purposes and national security purposes. Obviously consultation indicates precisely that, and I think the senator’s question really goes to what the final detail of any proposal would indicate. It is vital that any data retention regime strikes the correct balance between individual privacy, commercial imperatives and community expectation that unlawful behaviour is investigated and prosecuted.


Senator LUDLAM —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Thank you, Minister. You might take this one on notice for the Attorney. Does the government recognise the need to consult with the Australian public on the privacy implications of this proposal or is the Attorney-General seeking to repeat the government’s experience of the mandatory net filter?


Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water) —Thank you. I understand the Attorney-General’s Department has ongoing consultation with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Obviously, my advice is the government would ensure that any proposal would be consistent with the Privacy Act and the government’s privacy reforms.

In answer to the second supplementary: I have made clear that it is the government’s view that any data retention regime would need to strike the correct balance between individual privacy, commercial imperatives and community expectations that unlawful behaviour is both investigated and prosecuted.