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Data retention a very hot potato says Oz parl't commitee

Update: A-G shelves the idea, for now

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Data retention – something that governments around the world have scrambled to defend in the face of a daily diet of new revelations courtesy of whistleblower / leaker / traitor / hero Edward Snowden – doesn't have so many friends in the Australian Parliament.

Update: Since the report was released, federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has shelved data retention for now, in a statement saying "the Government will not pursue a mandatory data retention regime at this time and will await further advice from the departments and relevant agencies and comprehensive consultation."

In tabling its 321-page Report of the Inquiry into Potential Reforms of Australia's National Security Legislation, here, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security appears to be bucking a trend. In a world in which parliaments are being constantly urged by spooks and law enforcement towards greater intrusions in the name of national security, the PJCIS has made a raft of recommendations that would improve the transparency and accountability of access to telecommunication intercepts.

One of the most contentious aspects of the review, the Attorney-General's department's two-year-long barracking for a data retention regime, is treated as a serious issue rather than a lay-down misere for law enforcement. Noting that there was a “diversity of views” in the committee on the topic, the report also criticises the A-G's department for its reluctance to provide a detailed definition of what it actually wanted.

“One of the most controversial topics canvassed in the discussion paper —data retention—was only accorded just over two lines of text,” the report states.

“This lack of information from the Attorney-General [then Nicola Roxon - The Register] and her Department had two major consequences. First, it meant that submitters to the Inquiry could not be sure as to what they were being asked to comment on. Second, as the Committee was not sure of the exact nature of what the Attorney-General and her Department was proposing it was seriously hampered in the conduct of the inquiry and the process of obtaining evidence from witnesses.

“Importantly the Committee was very disconcerted to find, once it commenced its Inquiry, that the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) had much more detailed information on the topic of data retention. Departmental work, including discussions with stakeholders, had been undertaken previously. Details of this work had to be drawn from witnesses representing the AGD.”

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