Greens Communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said today that he doubts that there would be nearly as many requests for telecommunications metadata from Australian government agencies if they were required to obtain a warrant.
Currently, government agencies can obtain access to the so-called telecommunications metadata — the time, location, and call number — from telecommunications companies through internal authorisation, without requiring the agencies to get a judge to approve the handover.
In the last financial year, over 40 government agencies received 293,501 authorisations to access metadata.
Ludlam plans to introduce a Bill into parliament today that would require those agencies to obtain warrants before getting access to the metadata. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has opposed the warrant requirement, and last week, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told ABC's 7:30 program that it would grind law enforcement in Australia to a halt.
"To require a warrant for every time, and it's in the thousands, the mini thousands, of times that a law enforcement agency accesses this non-content telecommunications data would mean I think that law enforcement in Australia would grind to a halt," he said.
Ludlam told Radio National this morning that he doesn't believe that would be the result of his Bill.
"I think you'd find the vast number of them would disappear as necessary, and the ones remaining would be batched up and would be put through as warrants," he said.
"I think what's happening with the nearly 300,000 ... is that this material is just being vacuumed up because it is there. Not necessarily being used in the pursuit of crime. Very little of it has anything to do with terrorism."
Ludlam yesterday asked Joe Ludwig, the minister representing Dreyfus in the Senate, about Australia's involvement in the US mass surveillance program known as PRISM. Ludwig said that the government "does not comment on intelligence matters", but said Australia's involvement is in the bounds of Australian law.
"The Australian government does work closely with our allies on intelligence matters. This is to protect our national interests, including the security of Australians both at home and overseas," he said.
"We are confident that [our allies] understand and respect our legal framework, as well."
He said that Australian agencies are in discussion with their US counterparts on the implications that the PRISM program disclosure may have on Australia, but said there is "no basis" to claim that Australian agencies gain access to information from the US that would otherwise not be legal in Australia.
Ludlam said he was "fobbed off", as though the government was "on tranquillisers".