Turnbull rules out browsing history for data retention

Turnbull rules out browsing history for data retention

Summary: Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has moved to correct the record on what telecommunications companies will be required to retain under a mandatory data retention regime.


After three days of conflicting definitions from his party colleagues, including the prime minister, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ruled out including the history of websites visited by every Australian resident as part of any mandatory data retention regime.

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Since the announcement on Tuesday Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis in separate interviews both indicated that the government would seek to retain a list of websites visited by Australians as part of a scheme to force telecommunications companies to retain customer "metadata" for up to two years for access by government agencies for law enforcement purposes.

Turnbull, who was briefed by the security agencies this week, and spoke to the three largest ISPs last night about the proposals told ABC's AM program this morning that contrary to the claims of his parliamentary colleagues, website history would not be included in the scheme.

"The police, the security services, ASIO and so forth, are not asking the government to require telcos to record or retain information they are not currently already recording," Turnbull said.

He indicated that the call records and billing records currently retained by the telcos and accessed by law enforcement agencies would be all that would be required, and moved to shut down concern that website history would be included.

"There has been some concern expressed that the government was proposing that telcos should retain for two years a record of the websites you visit when you're online, whether that's expressed in the form of their domain names or their IP addresses; in other words that there would be a requirement to keep a two-year record of your web browsing or web surfing history — that is not the case," he said.

"What they are seeking are the traditional telephone records that are kept, and by some ISPs and telcos for more than two years, that is the caller, the call party, the time of call, the duration of call. Those records they want to be kept for two years, and they also want the IP address. That is the number that is assigned to your phone or your computer when you go online via your ISP.

"The ISP knows that IP address is connected to your account, that's recorded in their records. They want that information to be kept for two years."

Turnbull declined to explain why there had been confusion about the government's policy, insisting that his statement today was "consistent" with what Abbott and Brandis had said.

"I'll leave you to talk about the last couple of days, my concern is to be crystal clear about what we're talking about. I think one of the difficulties with a term like metadata is that it can mean different things to different people, so you have to be very clear what we're talking about."

Turnbull said that the policy will be formed following discussions with the telecommunications companies, and once it is fleshed out in detail, there will be a public debate on the privacy, security, and cost implications of the mandatory data retention scheme.

In 2012, Turnbull was vehemently against the mandatory data retention proposal when it was up for consideration by the former Labor government.

"This data retention proposal is only the latest effort by the Gillard Government to restrain freedom of speech," he said at the time.

"I must record my very grave misgivings about the proposal. It seems to be heading in precisely the wrong direction.

"Surely as we reflect on the consequences of the digital shift from a default of forgetting to one of perpetual memory we should be seeking to restore as far as possible the individual's right not simply to their privacy but to having the right to delete that which they have created in the same way as can be done in the analogue world."

The minister today rejected the assertion that he had changed his position on the policy from 2012.

"My concern in 2012 was that the Labor government did not explain what they were talking about," he said.

"I'm part of this government [now], and I hope I've explained with clarity and precision what the agencies are seeking, and what they are seeking is simply the information that is currently recorded is kept for two years."

ASIO chief David Irvine and Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin also held a press conference this morning attempting to justify their need for metadata as part of law enforcement investigations.

Irvine said that ASIO, which doesn't publicly reveal how many access requests it makes per year, was only seeking the existing call and billing records, and IP addresses associated to connected customers, not a history of sites accessed by customers.

"Our ability [is] to access telecommunications call data, not examine minutely everyone's surfing the web," he said.

He said that ASIO only accessed metadata for very specific people or incidents, and didn't trawl through the data.

"You need to understand the regime in which we are allowed to access metadata. We don't get out a rake and go trawling for bundles of metadata. We seek access to metadata on very specific cases. Without metadata, police would not have been able to solve that crime as quickly as they did," he said.

Irvine clarified the only IP addresses ASIO was seeking was those associated with a customer when connected to the internet, and not the IP addresses of the sites they were visiting. He said in some cases where ASIO has obtained, through means other than metadata access, a list of Australian IP addresses that accessed a site, then ASIO would seek to match up those IP addresses to customers in Australia using metadata.

Irvine said that the larger internet service providers were already keeping this information, but it was the newer ISPs that were not keeping the data.

"Some of the major telecommunications providers have been doing this for many years, some of the start ups are either not collecting the data or not holding it," he said.

Topics: Privacy, Government, Government AU, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • No websites - BUT ......

    Now this is interesting!
    No mention of FTP (file transfer sites), "Torrent", IM, etc. along with many other "Layer 7" protocols. Remember just a few weeks ago Minister Turnbull was talking about the problem of audio/video and like piracy here in Australia.
    Now that same ISP "metadata" collection will be a real tool for any enhanced enforcement regime - right? Not just for national security!
    So simple question - just what will be the parameters for access to that ISP/Common carrier database set? National security? Piracy allegations? Court order needed? Anything else!
    Yes - we need some very clear technical parameters in this whole debate BEFORE legislation / regulatory action.
  • Piracy, Terrorism, our Government, Fear, Freedom and Security.

    Murdoch and the ASA (AFACT) are sad because Australian's pirate and won't pay them for their overpriced content.
    Murdoch and the ASA (AFACT) want to introduce legislation to make ISP's responsible for issuing notices to people who are allegedly violating copyright.
    Brandis champions this cause.

    Suddenly a proposal to have ISP's save "metadata" for two years to "combat terrorism" is also released by Brandis.
    A day after the proposal, the fake Visa fiasco leaks - comments are made that there are terrorists in this country as a result.


    To me, the data retention plan looks more like it will be used to combat the alleged piracy issues in Australia and the fear of Terrorism is being used to push people into giving up their freedoms in exchange for "security".

    So the government is using fear to get what they want.
    Terrorists also use fear to get what they want.
    • Revenue not copyright

      The first role of government is to protect the money. The debt that we owe to foreign banks and banking families is secured by our lands, our seas, our resources and our labour. You don't think that the labor party created new national parks and marine reserves during their borrowing splurge for the good of the nation do you? If you Google banking crises or legislation over the last hundred years or so and correlate with loss of civil liberties you will see the pattern. Major milestones in drug criminalization have occurred around changes in banking practice as the government sought to secure ever greater levels of debt with examples of ever greater levels of productivity and compliance by its populace.
      This latest demand for our civil liberties is occurring here, as it is throughout the Western world, as the US status of reserve currency is looking a little shaky and the competitive devaluation that many governments have embarked on with money borrowed into existence has not generated the economic activity required to pay the interest on their privately issued debt based fiat currency. Global warming flopped, so no new tax revenues there and China has admitted it is in an economic war with the West. The European banking families are offering to create new money at 0% interest in some markets to try and keep the game afloat before they start seizing assets aka Greece. What to do next? Squash opportunities for dissent and demonstrate to the bankers that the adults are in charge, the children are subjugated and we can be trusted with greater debt (as heaven forbid we should nationalise our own currency - wars have been fought over that). Like smug little puppets the fools on the hill probably think they are working for the good of the country but the only advantage gained in oppression is to the oppressors.
  • He's part of the LNP

    You can't believe a thing they say. They are up to what, 100 broken promises in less than a year in government?

    http://blog.iinet.net.au/protecting-your-privacy/ is a better source for the facts, and it's based on the actual briefing paper
    • All is forgiven Conroy!

      Yeah, let's get Conroy back. I wonder how slow our Internet would be if Conroy was back making Telcos wear red underwear on their heads. He wasn't voted, "Internet villain of the year" for nothing. Give the LNP a chance to sort this out.
      • Conroy Loses Crown...

        ...as "Internet villain of the year"
        Turnbull wins hands down!
        Not satisfied in just "Demolishing the NBN" He's now intent on monitoring & thus contolling all our phone & internet activity through intimidation of the masses in what they do or say online or on their phones.
        "Turnbull has ruled out including the history of websites visited" is about as believable as some of his past claims:
        "Wireless is the Future, FTTH will cost 100 Billion+, Our's is just 29B Fully Costed, Faster, Cheaper, Minimum 25Mbps for all by 2016" & only AFTER a CBA etc."
        Once they get this through, the details & scope will obviously become "Secret Operational Matters in our Fight against Terrorism!"
    • Ad hominem?

      "He's part of the LNP, and therefore he must be lying"? No chance he might be telling the truth, even by accident?
      John L. Ries
  • who the hell knows what to believe?

    all the LNP MPs contradict each other, and Abbott has proven several times he's very happy doing what he wants regardless of what anyone else thinks anyway. you really can't count on anything the LNP says until legislation gets put up for a vote.
  • Perhaps...

    ...the federal ministers should stop speaking on the subject of data retention until an actual bill has been written and introduced into Parliament.
    John L. Ries