Australia's current prime minister Tony Abbott has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the head of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to renew his call for the country's data retention regime to pass parliament as soon as possible.
Relying on briefings from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, Tony Abbott stated that there have been important counter-terrorism and organised crime cases for which “metadata” access was “absolutely critical”.
“This isn't just nice to have, this is something which is absolutely essential”, the PM told a press conference this morning.
He said the briefing from law enforcement officers stated unequivocally that at least two important “mass casualty” terrorism events in planning were prevented by metadata access.
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, appearing at the press conference to support the PM's statements, claimed that access to stored communications data is critical to “90 per cent” of both counter-terrorism and organised crime investigations.
However, he said that while access to stored data is a “foundational” building block of investigations, it's impossible to stipulate how many convictions relied on it. The AFP's systems, he said, simply aren't configured to report the association between “metadata” and eventual convictions.
Colvin also repeated the law enforcement agencies' assertion – contradicted by some in the telecommunications industry before the Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security – that the legislation is solely concerned with standardising a retention period of data that's already collected.
“There's a lot of misconception about the legislation,” he said, adding that it confers “no new powers.”
“This is about providing certainty this is about how long the industry retains the data,” he said. “This is about providing consistency and certainty … technology is advancing, and we obviously need legislation to keep pace with technology”.
As for the way overseas over-the-top providers are not required to submit to the regime, Colvin said a Gmail user will still leave an electronic fingerprint, and that “identifier” is what the agencies will be able to access.
The prime minister said the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security's report on the draft legislation will be delivered by the end of the month, and called on the opposition Labor Party to support the legislation. ®