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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2837

Mr CIOBO (MoncrieffParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and ParliamentarySecretary to the Minister for Trade and Investment) (18:15): I am pleased to speak to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014. I have for some time had a particular interest in relation to data retention. In fact, prior to becoming a member of the executive, as a backbencher I was quite outspoken on data retention laws. I have been quoted in the media, raising concerns that I had with respect to data retention at the time, making the remark that they were 'tactics akin to the Gestapo'. I think those were my exact words.

I think it is important in the fullness of time to appreciate the context in which I made those remarks. We know as students of history that there have been many examples of governments misusing and abusing their power. I am someone who is fairly strong—at least, I like to think I am fairly strong—on civil liberties and a firm believer in the supremacy of the individual over the state. Indeed, that lies at the very core of why I am a member of the Liberal Party. So for those reasons I am often on guard in relation to state intrusion on personal rights.

I heard the member opposite cynically remark, 'That's because you were in opposition and now you are in government.' It is a shame that ignorant people make comments like those—ignorant because it is ignorant of the facts. The fact is that the proposal that Labor first aired on data retention was very, very different to what now lay on the table in relation to the coalition government's proposal.

The key difference and, I think it is fair to say, the most salient point in this debate that is conveniently overlooked very readily by critics of this government's proposed data retention approach comes down to this. And it is a crucial difference. The laws that the Labor Party first mooted and proposed did many similar things to what the government is now proposing but, in addition, they required that web-browsing history—that is, originating IP addresses and destination IP addresses—be retained. In particular, it is the destination IP address that marks an absolutely fundamental difference between the proposal that Labor put forward when they were in government and what this government is now doing. The reason why it is such a stark and fundamental difference and provides a difference akin to night and day with respect to this legislation is that under Labor's proposals—when I made remarks about it being 'tactics akin to the Gestapo'—it would have enabled the state to not only have known who was sitting on the end of an IP address and tapping into their computer or on their telephone but also have known which web pages they were looking at. And by knowing information such as which web pages or bullets and board, Relay Chat, P-to-P service or whatever, the state was afforded a privilege completely unprecedented in terms of knowing what each individual member of that state was looking at, for how long they were looking at it, exactly which page on the internet they were on, how long they were reading that page, whether it was a cursory click and whether they spent an hour or more looking at it. We are not doing that. That is not the coalition's proposal.

Let me make it clear. If it had been, people would have known about my objection to us doing that. But we are not. I was pleased to be able to work within government, to speak to the Attorney-General, to speak to the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, the member for Wannon, about my very concerns. They were not just my concerns; they were concerns that were held by a number of coalition members because, fundamentally, the true protector of civil liberties in this parliament is the Liberal Party. It is the Liberal Party that is the bastion of belief of the supremacy of the individual over the state. The socialists on the Labor side will always put the needs of the collective above the needs of the individual. But not us. As a Liberal, I was very pleased to work within government and to build on the very fine work that was undertaken by the Attorney-General, the Minister for Communications, and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, who determined that access to actually knowing which web pages were visited and for how long they were examined went well and truly above and beyond what was required for intelligence purposes.

We live in a new era, unfortunately. The threat from individual actors and, more broadly, from groups and organisations, whether you call them lone wolves or terrorist cells, has never been as strong as it is today. That is a simple statement of fact. We have already seen, unfortunately, too many examples in this country of those that want to infect our nation with fear by carrying out the most obscene and repugnant acts against private individuals and citizens who were simply going about the ordinary course of business in their lives. In that context, one of the primary responsibilities of government and, indeed, of the parliament is to provide safeguards to the general population that we will do what we can to thwart the terrorists' activities in planning stages. One of the most fundamental ways that we can do this is through the use of metadata.

If you go back to the commencement of mobile telephony, you would know that the world was a very different place. I recall one of the very first mobile phones that was available in the retail market. It was an old analogue. It would have been around about 1992. At the time, telecommunications companies routinely kept what is referred to as metadata. They knew who was the account holder, that is, the name of the person who owned the account. They knew the originating source of, for example, a call, in this case, that is, who was making this phone call and what number they were making it from. They kept who they called and they kept the duration of the call. The reason that telecommunications companies did that is because that was how they charged. Who did you call, how long did you speak to them for, was it a local call, was it an STD call, was it a call to another mobile? The duration of the call then determined the price you were charged. That was routinely kept because it was important billing information.

What we learned over time was that that information was invaluable to our law enforcement agencies in undertaking their work. The fact would simply be that there would be scores of people who are in prison today or who have been imprisoned as a direct result of that metadata. Without that data, those people would still be on the streets or would not have been convicted of a crime that they committed. They were convicted for no reason other than good investigation and metadata. It is a statement of plain fact.

With changes in billing, that is no longer routinely kept information. Most people know that, in this day and age, you can sign up for a mobile phone plan with unlimited calls, unlimited SMS and data services that basically have unlimited amounts of data in any particular billing cycle. The need for telecommunications businesses to continue recording that information, such as who the account holder is, what number they are calling from, what number they are calling to and how long they spoke for, is no longer a billing requirement for the telecommunications companies. For that reason, many telecommunications companies are in the process of having either phased out or commenced phasing out the retention of this information.

This is the challenge that presents itself to government: this very vital tool of data, so crucial to the effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting criminal activity and illegal activity more broadly, is being phased out. So, as a government, we have responded, I think, in a very appropriate way. The framework that is in this legislation says we must retain that data. We have extended it to also include, for example, IP data, such as who holds the account from which a computer is accessing another computer on the internet.

Again, I stress that we are not interested, as a government, in knowing which page someone was looking at on the internet. We are not interested in the destination IP address, because the way these investigations routinely work is that our law enforcement agencies and, indeed, others around the world work collaboratively. Take, for example, one of the most repugnant crimes that there is—child pornography, the assault of innocent children. Law enforcement agencies will find a site that contains this repugnant material and they will watch which IP addresses are going to that particular site. Sometimes those that are accessing those sites, of course, attempt to mask their address through the use of proxies. But once they know what the IP address is, they can then trace the steps back to know which computer it has come from and who the account holder is. They still do not know who was actually sitting behind the computer at that point in time, of course. But they do know who held the account and they do know that that site was accessed.

The retention of this information under this legislative framework is about enabling our authorities not just to prosecute potential terrorists but to prosecute those engaged in all sorts of criminal activity or those for which there is a pecuniary penalty, and that is appropriate. As someone who has been a strident advocate for civil liberties, I do not walk away from the fact that the key tipping point for me in this debate is destination IP addresses. Who you have called and the phone number you have called from is information that has essentially been in existence since we commenced using telephones and commenced charging for them. It has been decades. Who the account holder is and which IP address you are using is information we need, and I do not believe it is that much of an incursion on civil liberties for us to know which computer is being used.

It is an incursion to know which web page you have been to. The state does not need to know that. But it is not an incursion to know that you hold an account and that that account was used in accessing whichever particular site might be monitored by authorities—not every site, but a site that is being monitored, for example, if it had, as I mentioned, child pornography on it. For those reasons, this legislation by this government is appropriate. It is very different to Labor's original proposal that I railed against.

The concerns that I know have been put forward by journalists in relation to the protection of their sources are concerns that have been addressed by the coalition and the Labor Party by including an amendment to require a warrant when it comes to revealing a journalist's source. That ability existed for a lot more agencies than it does under this legislation, and it was not abused previously by this or any previous government—or, more importantly, by the agencies themselves. So safeguards are in effect and it is important to realise that, if we do not have retention of this data, then we are effectively removing the opportunity for our agencies to be able to prosecute those who engage in all sorts of nefarious activities—from terrorism through to child pornography—and that is too high a price to pay.