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Monday, 24 June 2013
Page: 3789


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (17:31): I want to support the remarks of Senator Faulkner. The committee, in carrying out the Attorney-General's request, was confronted with a number of difficulties. The terms of reference were extraordinarily wide. The lack of draft legislation and the emergence of technology to analyse and collect data electronically means that we virtually have a tiger by the tail. The lack of such draft legislation or any details of some of the potential reforms was very difficult for this committee to deal with.

One of the most controversial topics was, as Senator Faulkner has indicated, data retention. Data retention and management give very high powered computing technology the ability to produce, very quickly, clear and concise answers to intelligence questions. The Attorney-General did not provide a great deal of assistance and neither did her department. That meant that submitters to the inquiry could not be sure what they were being asked to comment on—the moving feast of technology and all of these methodologies were not specifically laid out.

Second, the committee was not sure of the exact nature of what the Attorney-General and her department were proposing. The committee was effectively flying blind to some extent and guessing at where this sort of technological progression was going to lead. Once it commenced its inquiry the committee became very disconcerted, as the report indicates, by the fact that the Attorney-General's Department was found to have much more detailed information, particularly about data retention, than was initially understood. The departmental work, including discussions with stakeholders, had been undertaken previously. Details of this work had to be drawn from witnesses representing the Attorney-General's Department. That is unsatisfactory and of concern.

It took until 7 November 2012 for the committee to be provided with a formal complete definition of which data was to be retained under the data retention regime proposed by the Attorney-General's Department. I will be brief, because Senator Faulkner, quite properly, has set out the main concerns of the committee with respect to this matter. The section concerning data retention attracted a large amount of criticism, and for good reason. People in their day-to-day lives generate an enormous amount of material that can be categorised as data. It can be stored. It can be re-referenced and cross-referenced. It can be used in ways that not many people can contemplate.

There was criticism from organisations and individuals. The organisations generally considered any potential data retention regime a significant risk to the security of their information and to their privacy, which is very understandable and quite proper. The concerns can be grouped as follows: privacy and civil liberty concerns; security concerns; feasibility and efficacy concerns; and cost concerns. The last one is the one that I am most concerned with. In the sphere of national security, the collection and retention of data is very important. The analysis of that data is crucial. The storing of data is an extremely expensive proposition. The protocols surrounding such data need to be spelled out very quickly so that cost-effective protocols can be established.

Without going on, this report had enormously broad terms of reference. I want to pay tribute to the secretariat of the committee for how they dealt with the request of the then Attorney-General. It was nebulous and difficult. This is the forerunner of a very significant report analysing matters that will concern Australians into the future. It highlighted some of the concerns on each side of the ledger, such as how we should better manage data from a national security perspective and with respect to people's privacy. It looked at issues of cost and other issues of ethics and protocol surrounding such data. These are very crucial future questions. I would like to think that this parliament, this committee and, indeed, Australia generally can lead the world in the way we deal with this material and the protocols surrounding the collection of such material, and, more broadly, how we administer national security legislation that of necessity must yield intelligence as to what people are doing in their day-to-day lives.

I will not go on, because Senator Faulkner has said more important things. He participated in the committee to a greater extent than I did. But having lived and breathed with some of these matters when I was Minister for Justice and Customs, the use of CCTV in the future in this country is also all about the storage, management and ethical management of data, which is the background context of the matters contained in this report. I commend the report to the Senate.