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Turnbull clarifies metadata debate, rules out browsing history

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stepped in to clarify the debate around data retention, denying that browsing history would be recorded.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Greg Wood/Getty Images

Despite being left out of the consultation process for the Government's proposed data retention reforms, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been left to explain the policy and outline exactly what metadata retention would involve.

The reforms were drafted by a select group of Coalition members in the National Security Committee and approved earlier this week. Turnbull does not sit on the NSC and reportedly did not learn of the draft legislation until it was leaked to News Ltd shortly before being announced to the public.

Despite this, he has been left to pick up the pieces and explain the complex issue of metadata after both the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney General George Brandis linked metadata to browsing history and indicated that telcos and ISPs would be required to retain lists of websites visited by Australians for a period of two years.

Speaking on ABC radio, Turnbull said his focus was on being "crystal clear" about the nature of metadata and what telecommunications providers would be required to store.

I think one of the difficulties with a term like metadata is that it can mean different things to different people.

There has been some concern expressed that the Government was proposing that telcos should retain for two years a record of the websites that you visit when you're online, whether that's expressed in the form of their domain names or their IP addresses, in other words, that there would be a requirement to keep a two-year record of your web browsing or web surfing history...That is not the case.

[Security and law enforcement agencies are seeking] the IP address, which is the number that is assigned to your phone or your computer when you go online by your ISP, so that you can be connected on the internet. And...the ISP knows that IP address is connected to your account.

I just wanted to be very clear that the agencies, the security agencies are not seeking that the Government require telcos to keep a record of your browsing history, of your web surfing activity. That's a very important point.

In 2012, Turnbull described data retention legislation being proposed by the Labor Government as "the latest effort by the Gillard Government to restrain freedom of speech"; in today's interview he said his major concern at that time was that "the Labor government did not explain what they were talking about".

However, Turnbull denied there had been confusion or discord in the Government's explanation of data retention reforms, saying his comments were "quite consistent" with those of the PM and the Attorney General.

"I'm part of this Government and I'm explaining, I think -- I hope -- with clarity and precision what the agencies are seeking," he said. "It does not relate to the content of traffic. It doesn't relate to which websites you visit."