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Data retention one step closer as Government accepts bipartisan review

The Government and Attorney-General George Brandis have welcomed bipartisan recommendations on proposed data retention laws meaning that, with some amendments, the bill looks likely to pass.

Attorney-General George Brandis. CeBIT Australia, CC BY 2.0

The Government has agreed to amend proposed data retention legislation to adopt a number of recommendations from a bipartisan review, including agreeing to define the data set in legislation and provide protections for journalists.

The announcement follows a joint parliamentary inquiry into the bill, which heard from critics and proponents of data retention across the industry. The committee handed down its report last week [PDF], providing a list of 39 recommendations to improve privacy safeguards and oversight for access to metadata.

The Government has now agreed to adopt all 39 recommendations, which come from both Labor and Coalition camps, meaning the passage of the bill through parliament is all but secured, despite ongoing opposition from backbench MPs and Senators.

Among the amendments, the Government has committed to listing agencies that can access metadata as well as defining the final data set within legislation, meaning ISPs and telcos will have a specific list of the types of data they will be required to retain. While the Government had previously intended to define this data set through regulation in order to 'future proof' the laws, this lack of clarity was met with opposition.

Similarly, politicians from across the lower and upper houses as well as privacy advocates, media organisations and civil liberties groups raised serious concerns about the impact of data retention laws on journalists' contact with confidential sources, saying that the laws could gravely damage press freedoms in Australia.

As a result, the Government has agreed to review "the appropriate approach to disclosure or use of telecommunications data to identify journalists' sources" via committee, and has said that access to journalists' metadata will be subject to oversight from the Commonwealth Ombudsman or, in the case of ASIO access, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

Speaking in Senate Question Time after announcing his support for the recommendations, Senator Brandis said that "notwithstanding the bleatings" of some members of the Labor party, the laws had bipartisan support.

Recognising the review committee's statement that "such a regime is justified as a necessary, effective and proportionate response" Brandis reiterated that the bill be should be passed as a priority.