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Australian MPs warn of privacy implications of legislative proposals

A committee of Australian MPs reviewing a package of proposals by the Attorney General have raised serious concerns about their potential implications for privacy and civil liberties.

In considering a proposal to drastically expand the country’s data retention practices, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security slammed the Attorney-General for failing to provide sufficient information about the proposed changes, noting that the controversial proposal “was only accorded just over two lines of text”. Should a data retention regime be introduced, said the Committee, it must only apply to metadata, excluding content and internet browsing data, and should be subject to a rigorous oversight regime.

With respect to the suggested changes to Australia’s interception regime, the Committee recommended that the Attorney-General ensure that privacy be explicitly incorporated as one of the dual objectives of the legislation, along with the investigation of crimes and threats to national security. The proportionality tests in the legislation should also be reviewed to include the privacy impacts of the proposed investigative activity, and to require a consideration of the availability and effectiveness of less intrusive investigative techniques.

Importantly, the Committee asked for a review of the threshold for access to communications data, or metadata. The high value of individuals’ metadata to governments has recently been illustrated by the revelations that the US National Security Agency is collecting such data on a massive scale.  In Australia, the Committee notes, there were 251,631 requests for access to metadata by agencies including local shire councils, animal protection authorities and revenue offices. The Committee urged the Attorney-General to reduced the number of agencies able to access telecommunications data by increasing the gravity of conduct necessary to warrant access to such data.

Privacy International welcomes and echoes the concerns expressed by the Committee, many of which were voiced in our submission to the Parliamentary Committee in August 2012. 


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