by Dylan Welch
National Security Correspondent
July 12, 2012
Agencies want access
and social media such as
Facebook and Twitter.
The telephone and internet data of every
Australian will be retained for up to two years and intelligence agencies
would be given increased access to social media sites such as Facebook and
Twitter, under a suite of new proposals from Australia's intelligence
Revealed in a discussion paper released by the Attorney-General's
Department, the more than 40 proposals form a massive ambit claim from the
If passed they would be the most significant
expansion of the Australian intelligence community's powers since the
Howard-era reforms following the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Illustration: Simon Letch
The discussion paper containing the proposals
was released as part of an announcement by the Attorney-General, Nicola
Roxon, who has asked the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence
security to review them.
The review will seek public submissions for the next month and will then
hold a series of public and classified hearings.
''It will be one of the most controversial
inquiries the committee has ever held,'' a government official speaking
on condition of anonymity said.
''Once people get their head around this stuff it will be very
interesting to see what their reaction will be. In the UK it has led to
some very vocal opinions.''
A similar data retention regime proposed in
Britain - though of only 12 months, rather than two years, duration - has
been widely debated and England's Information Commissioner, Christopher
Graham, has stated the case for such regimes has yet to be made.
The Australian proposals will also be sure to attract strong criticism from
the Greens and civil liberties groups.
The discussion paper outlines changes to the various Acts governing
Australia's six intelligence agencies - which include ASIO, ASIS and the
Defence Signals Directorate (DSD).
They are also divided into three categories - those the government agrees
with, those they are considering, and those they are seeking advice on.
The proposed reform likely to cause the most outrage is the intention to
force all telecommunications providers operating in Australia to retain
users' data for up to two years. While some companies voluntarily retain
data for such periods, others delete users' call records and internet usage
data almost as quickly as they receive it.
Such data retention schemes have been a subject of much global debate, with
law enforcement and intelligence agencies saying they are finding it
increasingly hard to monitor their targets online due to the proliferation
of new tools such as social media, cloud computing and internet
communications utilities such as
Civil liberties groups and some politicians, however, say it is a first step
in a systematic erosion of privacy online.
''This extreme proposal is based on the
notion that all our personal data should be stored by service providers
so that every move we make can be surveilled or recalled for later
data-mining,'' the Greens senator Scott Ludlam said.
Also among the proposals are changes to some of
the most fundamental divisions between agencies.
For six decades ASIO has been the only
Australian intelligence agency authorized to routinely collect intelligence
However, under a proposed change, officers from Australia's foreign
intelligence services, ASIS and the DSD, would be allowed to monitor
Australian citizens overseas if an ASIO officer was not available.
ASIO, whose main role is to monitor people in Australia - mainly citizens -
who may present a security threat, has a specific legislative framework
which was created to protect people's rights.
Australians monitored by ASIS or DSD would
presumably not have access to similar protections.