Govt responds to data retention criticism

Data retention might seem invasive, but it is also necessary, according to the Australian Government.

The Federal Government has defended the need for intelligence agencies to have access to internet and phone records of Australians.

But both the Labor Party and the Coalition agree that there is a need to balance national security requirements with an individual's right to privacy.

Data will be retained for up to two years and agencies will be given increased access to social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, under a suite of new proposals being considered by a parliamentary committee .

The government has proposed that, in order to prevent agencies having to sift through mass amounts of data, interception of the data from ISPs to agencies should be targeted to specific topics or areas, such as a specific keyword search

Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury said that it was important for the nation's intelligence agencies to have access to information they needed, to protect the nation.

"But, of course, there is always going to be an important need for us to balance that against the protection of the privacy of the individual," he told Sky News on Thursday.

Senior opposition frontbencher Bruce Billson agreed that there needed to be a right balance.

"The new technology, social media, the whole digital space is putting real pressure on law enforcement and on people's privacy," he said.

"Getting those new tools right for this new environment is a really tough, challenging task."

The proposals are outlined in a discussion paper that was released by the Attorney-General's Department, for consideration by Parliament's joint houses committee on intelligence and national security.

The committee has been asked to inquire into the lawful access to communications and associated data, to reduce the risks to Australia's communication networks from certain foreign technology and service suppliers, and boosting the operations of Australian intelligence community agencies.

The government has indicated that it would want a greater say in which vendors network operators are allowed to choose from for key parts of their network infrastructure , and would offer telcos advice on potential national security issues associated with particular vendors. NBN Co has already refused to accept any technology from Chinese network technology giant Huawei, on the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

In meetings held with industry, earlier this year, the industry stated that it wants to avoid having to get government approval for network architecture, instead preferring a requirement to meet a set "security outcome".

The government could then direct telcos to modify infrastructure, or open it up to auditing and ongoing monitoring, at the cost of the company, and failure to comply would result in financial penalties.

Another proposal under consideration is allowing Australia's foreign intelligence services to monitor citizens overseas, if an an officer from the ASIO is not available.

ASIO has been the sole agency allowed to collect data on Australian citizens.

Submissions to the inquiry are due by 6 August. The committee intends to hold a series of public and closed hearings.