Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan said today that the Federal Government's data retention proposal was just law enforcement attempting to maintain the telecommunications interception "status quo".
"All we're asking for here is for the status quo to remain," he said.
"Data retention will not give agencies new powers; It will ensure that existing capabilities remain available," Attorney-General's Department representative Catherine Smith agreed.
Gaughan was speaking at the Senate Environment and Communications Committee's public hearing today into the adequacy of protections for Australian's online privacy. The hearing focused strongly on a government data retention proposal, which could see communications details and web histories of Australians recorded for potential use by law enforcement.
The onset of internet telephony was making it hard for law enforcement to track phone calls in the same way they had with traditional analog telephony, according to the hearing.
Smith described the legislation around telecommunications interception as being "constantly under review" due to the impact of new technologies.
Attorney-General's Department representative Wendy Kelly said that the set of information that the telco sector was collecting, for example call logs, had changed, and that different companies were storing it for different periods, ranging from days to years.
"You're seeking consistency across the industry?" asked Greens Party Senator Scott Ludlam.
"Correct," she replied.
The department representatives committed to providing the committee with a private and confidential briefing at a later date to give it a better idea of the data being collected.
"It contains information that could be prejudicial to law enforcement if it was released," said Smith.
It has previously been unclear to what extent the Attorney-General's Department had consulted on the data retention proposal, with some internet service providers believed to have been sworn to non-disclosure agreements regarding the matter.
However, today Smith said that wide consultation had been undertaken. Discussions had included internet service providers and representative groups such as the Communications Alliance, as well as the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
It was unclear, however, what the next steps in the development of the proposal will be. Smith said the department was still considering the proposal's merits. "There's been no decision on where and how we'll take this forward," she said. "I don't have any instructions — we're still gathering information."