"What we'll be able, what the security agencies want to know to be retained, is the electronic address of the website that the web user is using."
Attorney-General George Brandis later clarified that web-browsing history would not be retained as part of mandatory data-retention legislation.
"There are very few serious crimes that do not require an investigation and analysis of telecommunications data in their resolution, very few crimes that don't require this kind of thing if they're to be properly investigated. Without this metadata-retention legislation, our police and security agencies will be quite literally (sic) flying blind."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants mandatory data-retention legislation to be passed through the parliament in March.
"I do believe that one of the things which makes Australia a great democracy is having a free press. I understand the importance for security agencies to be able to obtain metadata, but we need to be careful that we don't trample on the rights of the press. Now, I know a lot of hard work has been done, and I am hopeful that 22-plus propositions from the Labor opposition, doing our job as we should, conscientiously getting the balance right, will be taken on board by the committee report."
Labor proposed that a separate committee look into press freedom implications as a result of data-retention legislation that Labor is likely to vote in favour of before the committee has reported back to parliament.
"Of course they want more power. It is your job and ours to balance that power against proportionality and whether it is useful or not. I am just asking for evidence as to whether it is useful."
Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam remains opposed to the legislation.
"The proposed Bill sets out what the government sees as being appropriate accountability, oversight, and review mechanisms in the context of access to telecommunications data. That is expressed, after a review, through the Ombudsman, through the range of offences, and through professional obligations that are placed on law-enforcement officers."
Attorney-General's Department acting first assistant secretary for National Security and Law Enforcement Anna Harmer has been a key figure in the government's advocacy for mandatory data retention.
"I am very conscious of the fact that with security comes cost, and that the more obligations parliament places on ISPs, the more costly this scheme will be."
Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare pushed for the government to release the cost estimate for the proposed legislation to the public. So far, the government has resisted.
"It would have grave implications for law enforcement's ability in this country to investigate, deter, and disrupt potential terrorist acts."
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin has strongly advocated for mandatory data retention, but had to clarify that the AFP isn't looking to chase internet pirates.
"Perhaps this is a rhetorical question, but how is this intelligence committee to scrutinise the scheme unless the government has a settled idea, a settled definition, of the data set that it wants to force companies to keep?"
Following Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus' questions, the committee recommended that the data set be defined in legislation rather than regulation.
"In the Bill, it is proposed that historical communication data be retained for two years. ASIO supports this provision. However, I would like to point out—and this is important—that I regard the retention period as a pragmatic compromise. Ideally, ASIO data needs would be better met if there were a significantly longer retention period, but I want to stress that with the competing interests — we do not operate in a vacuum here — of the triangle of privacy, business efficiency, and security, I accept that a two-year retention period is an acceptable minimum."
ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis has said that data retention is "vitally important" for ASIO to identify and avert threats in Australia.
"I think the view of the Victoria Police would be that although that is something that would be very nice to have and very beneficial, if it raises a level of concern in the community around the Bill and the proposed regime, generally we are prepared to say we can live with the proposed arrangements and do the best we can under that regime."
Victoria Police detective inspector Gavan Segrave has said that he would like web-browsing history retained, but that the proposed data set is a compromise.
"If I were in a foreign intelligence service wanting to hack Telstra's network, this new proposed system would be where I would go. You would tell the computer; you compromise the account of the user that has access to the system to provide the answer to law enforcement, and you type in the subscriber information, and, presto, there is your answer."
Telstra's chief security intelligence officer Mike Burgess said Telstra will move all the data from 13 systems to just one for mandatory data retention.
"I would be interested to know what is your group's experience in running intelligence-led operations that would enable you to make a judgment on the basis of relative value of this information based on ways that you can circumvent the information. Surely, those law-enforcement agencies are pretty well placed to understand the relative values of both the data set being exploited by them for intelligence purposes and their ability to counteract an agile adversary that is trying to circumvent those things. Despite their intimate knowledge of those things, their strong evidence to this committee and in the public domain is that this remains something that is essential to their operations."
Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic strongly backed law-enforcement agencies calling for mandatory data retention, and railed against witnesses who questioned its value or the privacy implications.
"If a decision is made to implement a scheme such as this which is going to require, as I said, the holding or the collection and retaining of huge volumes of data and personal information about people for a long period of time, we need to look at what else we can put in place to do our best to secure that information."
Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim unsuccessfully argued that the two-year retention period should be assessed against the privacy implications associated with storing data for that length of time.
"I'm looking forward to reporting at the end of February with another bipartisan report so we can make sure that the legislation goes through in the parliament in March."
Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence & Security chair Dan Tehan appeared at an event with Prime Minister Tony Abbott endorsing the mandatory data-retention legislation that his own committee was investigating.
"I am very ignorant of these matters — Skype is a telephone you use on a computer?"
Former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock is coming to grips with the technical side of the debate, but has largely weighed in favour of mandatory data retention because he believes the "right to life" trumps the right to privacy.