The Australian Pirate Party has lambasted the Australian Attorney-General's Department over its rejection of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request into data retention proposals, and applauded Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull for his recent comments against it.
The Pirate Party wrote to the Attorney-General's Department on September 6, 2012, asking for copies of draft legislation that had not been made public, but were being used as a basis for data retention proposals.
The Attorney-General's Department has now decided, after reviewing what information is available, not to release that information. It said that, because the material is in a draft form, and has not been through whole-of-government review and approval processes, it is not in the public interest, and could prejudice the negotiations and decision making processes that is currently being undertaken.
"This is a disgraceful and troubling response from the Attorney-General's Department," said Pirate Party Treasurer Rodney Serkowski in a statement. "They have completed draft legislation, prior to any transparent or consultative process, and are now denying access to that legislation, for reasons that are highly dubious and obviously politically motivated. The department is completely trashing any semblance or notion of transparency, or participative democratic process of policy development."
"Where the legislative proposals almost certainly mean the complete erosion of fundamental freedoms like privacy, it is in the public interest that we are able to access the text of such proposals, so as to properly inform public debate. We want transparent government and private citizens, not the opposite."
The party plans to take the matter to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
Turnbull recently spoke up about the data retention proposal, stating that he has "grave misgivings" about it, and that it was "vague" but "far-reaching"; a move that has won the applause of the Pirate Party.
"It is fantastic that finally, someone is considering these proposals from a cautious perspective," said Pirate Party Deputy Secretary Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer. "So far, it seems that, apart from [Australian Greens] Senator [Scott] Ludlam, there has been very little concern from our parliamentarians that these provisions may go further than is necessary to perpetuate the safe society that Australia is."
"The implications are simply not being given the attention they deserve, either from the Attorney-General, from whose department these proposals originated, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, nor from police commissioners or intelligence organisations. We encourage other parliamentarians to look into these concerns and recognise the [ramifications] of data retention. And we call on them to make sure they have an understanding of the technology the proposed legislative changes involve. It is simply not good enough for members of parliament to proudly state that they are 'not nerds,' and then legislate with little knowledge or consultation with experts."
The Attorney-General's Department had been previously informed of the impacts upon privacy in the form of a privacy assessment. At the time, it had asked independent contractor Information Integrity Solutions to undertake the assessment during a review of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.
The preliminary report (PDF), dated December 2011, released on the Attorney-General's Department's FOI log on August 31, 2012, and first reported on by iTnews, covered many aspects that could provide relevant insight into the current data retention debate.
In particular, it recommended, with respect to storing metadata, that the department "limit the non-content data retention requirement to a short period (6 months), unless there is strong evidence relevant to Australia of the utility of a longer period."
The contractor's report also appeared to predict the debate that is now ensuing, due to a lack of firm details, stating that the Attorney-General's Department should "support the exposure draft of the legislation, with detailed and concrete evidence on the issues and problems the proposals address."