The Australia Federal Police (AFP) is the latest agency to lend support for the Australian government’s widely-debated data retention bill, saying this reform will ensure the consistent retention of data for historical investigations.
The AFP appeared before a Federal Parliamentary inquiry on 17th December. In an official statement, Commissioner Andrew Colvin reiterated support for the collection of a “limited subset of telecommunications data.” This data is already available to phone and internet providers.
“The amendments within the Bill address the issue for law enforcement that some service providers hold this data for a matter of weeks, while others may hold it for a number of years,” noted the AFP statement.
Using data is not a new instrument for law enforcement. “All Australian law enforcement agencies have repeatedly made it clear that the consistent availability of telecommunications data is essential to the investigation of modern criminal activity in an increasingly globalised environment.”
Long-term and complex investigations demonstrate a critical need to access historical telecommunications data. “The AFP considers that the proposed two-year retention period to be a reasonable and appropriate timeframe.”
Commissioner Colvin said the Bill is about maintaining current law enforcement capability. “What is new, and what is important to achieve here, is setting out a tight and limited data set that law enforcement can rely on companies to keep for an agreed timeframe.”
Not relying on luck
He noted that consistent data retention enables investigators to be confident about identifying serious criminal offenders. “When we are dealing with serious threats to national security and other serious crime like child exploitation we can’t afford to rely on luck to see if the company the criminal has chosen to use keeps that data or not.”
The AFP says it acknowledges the importance of individual privacy. But a law enforcement agency does not support the right to anonymity where this involves concealing unlawful activity.
Among the privacy checklists, the Commonwealth Ombudsman is expected to carry out annual inspections of stored communications and telecommunications data and provide updated reports.
These safeguards will ensure the AFP can use data in a “carefully targeted manner to support investigations into serious criminal behaviour and to protect the community.”
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is carrying out a wide-ranging inquiry into the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014.
A new Bill amends existing laws and requires companies providing telecommunications services in Australia or carriers and internet service providers to keep a limited, prescribed set of telecommunications data for two years.
The type of data referred to in the Bill encompasses telecommunications data. This is more broadly described as metadata. Access to this metadata can strengthen counter-terrorism activities, note officials. This may include counterespionage, managing cyber-security or tackling organised crime investigation.
Investigations are failing
In an earlier statement, Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull noted that existing powers and laws are not adequate to respond to the more dynamic challenges. “Simply put, investigations are failing,” he said.
“No responsible government can sit by while those who protect our community lose access to the tools they need to do the job. In the current threat environment in particular, we cannot let this problem get worse.”
Turnbull added that a two-year data retention regime enables law enforcement, security agencies, or foreign jurisdictions to better utilise historical records. “While many cases are solved within a few months, investigations into serious and complex crimes and threats to security often span many years, requiring access to older records,” he said.
The Federal Parliamentary inquiry has received submissions from a range of industry groups, privacy advocates, law reform bodies, media organisations and law enforcement agencies. These include the Australian Law Reform Commission, NSW Ombudsman, Independent Commissioner Against Corruption and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
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