Abbott says Australians' web browsing history to be retained

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said that every Australians' web browsing history will be retained for access by government agencies without a warrant.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said web browsing history for each and every Australian resident would be required to be retained by telecommunications companies under new data retention legislation expected to be entered into parliament later this year.

Yesterday the prime minister and Attorney-General George Brandis said that in principle approval had been given by Cabinet for Brandis to develop a framework to require telecommunications companies to retain customer data for up to two years. Brandis said he would be consulting with the companies in developing this proposal, but iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby told ZDNet yesterday he had yet to hear from the government.

The definition of the actual data the government wants kept, and the length of time it will be kept for remains a mystery, with the announcement yesterday not detailing the exact specifics of the data that will be held.

iiNet has said if the data retention proposal is simply about retaining call records, then there is little controversy with the proposal, but said that confidential briefings from the Attorney-General's Department state that much more data will be kept as part of the scheme.

Speaking to the Today Show this morning, Abbott confirmed an expansion of data retained indicating that browsing history would be required to be retained by the telecommunications companies.

"Let's be clear about what this so-called metadata is. It's not the content of the letter, it's what is on the envelope," he said.

"It's not what you're doing on the internet, it's the sites you're visiting. It's not the content, it's just where you've been, so to speak. We're talking to the internet providers to ensure this so-called metadata is kept."

Abbott went further on ABC's AM program, stating that any data generated by the telcos about their customers would be kept.

"My understanding is that if it is generated by you, it is content, and that won't be kept. If it is generated by the service providers, that's metadata, and it will be kept," he said.

Abbott rejected claims that the scheme would cost iiNet up to AU$100 million in the first two years to implement, stating it was something the company already had factored in to pricing.

"I don't know why they would be saying that because this is information that is already kept," he said.

"It's embedded in the current price, it's already factored into current pricing structures."

But there appears to be conflicting descriptions of the data set that would need to be retained under the scheme. Brandis told 2GB Radio this morning that it would only be the call records and email records that would be retained.

"It's not everything recorded," he said.

"Metadata is the identitiy of numbers or email addresses."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the ABC's 7.30 program last night that telcos would only be required to retain what was required.

"This is not about breaching privacy or listening in to people's private conversations. This is ensuring that our intelligence agencies have the capability to detect terrorists at work," she said.

"The way to detect a terrorist cell is to work out their networks and so our intelligence and security agencies need the capacity to do that. We will work with the telcos to ensure that there is a balance and that we only gather what we need to gather for the purposes of counter-terrorism."

Bishop said the detail on what would be required to be retained would appear in the legislation.

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