The office of Attorney-General Robert McLelland today denied that a controversial data retention policy being considered by his department could see Australians' web browsing history tracked by internet service providers.
"This is not about web browser history," said McLelland's media liaison Adam Siddique in a brief telephone conversation. "It's purely about being able to identify and verify identities online," he added, linking the initiative to the ability for law enforcement to track criminals.
On Friday the Attorney-General's Department confirmed it had been examining the European Directive on Data Retention to consider whether it would be beneficial for Australia to adopt a similar regime. The directive requires telcos to record and retain data such as the source, destination and timing of all emails and telephone calls — even including internet telephony.
Siddique's statement contradicts claims by internet service (ISP) provider sources that the Australian version of the directive could extend as far as tracking the web browsing history of all Australians, with one of those sources telling ZDNet Australia that such a regime "would be scary and very expensive".
Another source said the regime being considered by the Australian Government could see data held for much longer than EU Directive time of 24 months — it would be more like five or ten years.
"We're talking browsing history and emails, way beyond what I would consider to be normal SMS, retaining full browsing history and everything," that source said.
However, Siddique declined to disclose further details of what the department was considering or when any public consultation on the matter might be held, directing further questions to the department, which has already declined to comment on more specific details of the consultation.
ISPs such as iiNet have disclosed they were aware of some aspects of the proposal as early as late 2009, but Siddique said he wasn't aware that the ISPs had been required to sign a non-disclosure agreement as part of the consultation.
Most of the ISPs who have confirmed they were consulted about the data retention proposal have stated that they do not feel any modification to the current system is required. In addition, groups such as Electronic Frontiers Australia, the Australian Democrats and the Pirate Party Australia have slammed the idea over the past few days.
According to the EU directive, where internet access is concerned, ISPs must retain the user ID of users, email addresses of senders and recipients of email, the date and time that users logged on and off from a service, and their IP address — whether dynamic or static applied to their user ID.
For telephone conversations, this means the number from which calls were placed and the number that received the call, the owner of the telephone service and similar data such as the time and date of the call's commencement and completion. For mobile phone numbers, geographic location data would also be included.
The chief executive of internet provider Exetel described the proposal as "a nanny state gone totally insane". The issue is being debated on Twitter under the #ozlog hashtag.