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Australia’s mandatory data retention laws will be potentially overhauled to limit the number of government agencies with access to it.
The metadata laws, passed in 2015, require Australian telecommunications companies to retain records of calls, text messages and other forms of communications by their customers for two years to allow just over 20 government agencies including the state and federal police, Asio, and others to access without a warrant for investigating criminal acts.
A long-running inquiry had heard that much more than just those agencies that were supposed to have access to the data were still accessing the data using a separate part of the Telecommunications Act. That included local councils and the RSPCA.
The joint parliamentary committee on intelligence and security made 22 recommendations for the legislation, including repealing the law that allowed access to other agencies.
The bipartisan committee also recommended clearly defining the meaning of ‘content’ of communications separately from metadata, to make it clear what law enforcement would need to obtain a warrant to get.
The agencies (bar Asio) that do access metadata should also keep reports on the number of authorisations for that data per officer, the case numbers, specific offences, why the authorisation was granted, whether the data was used to rule someone out of an investigation and other such information in the event that oversight bodies like the commonwealth ombudsman or parliament requests it.
Asio would be required to explain the nature of the national security risk, and whether the intrusion into someone’s privacy was reasonable and proportionate.
The committee is chaired by Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, and the bipartisan recommendations of the committee are typically adopted by the government, however the committee also previous recommended going back to the drawing board for legislation on the government’s facial recognition system, and it’s been a year since that report was handed to government and no new legislation has yet to to be introduced into parliament.
In estimates a little earlier, Labor sought to pressure the employment minister, Michaelia Cash, over a grants program that caused more than $4m in funds to flow overwhelmingly to Coalition seats.
The grant program for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Export Hubs, designed to support Australian exporters, has been run across two rounds, the first worth $4.5m and the second about $10m.