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Brandis: ​Data retention an "urgent priority" after Paris terror attacks

Attorney-General George Brandis has pointed to recent terror-related attacks in Paris and Sydney, calling for the quick passage of "crucial" data retention laws in Australia.

Attorney-General George Brandis Image by CeBIT Australia, CC BY 2.0

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has raised the spectre of recent terror attacks in Paris and Sydney to call for renewed attention on data retention in Australia.

His comments come just days after 17 people were killed in a spate of attacks on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket in Paris, and a month after two people were killed in the Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney.

In light of these events, Senator Brandis said the passage of the Government's fourth and final piece of national security legislation -- the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill -- was an "urgent priority".

In an Op Ed in The Australian, Senator Brandis said in the wake of the attacks in Sydney and Paris, "no rational person can dispute that the world -- and the free and democratic West in particular -- faces a profound threat that is likely to be with us for a long time."

He said the government had committed AU$630 million in funding to national security agencies, in part to fund upgraded "surveillance capability", and was undertaking "the most comprehensive rewrite of our national security laws in 30 years".

Senator Brandis pointed to new bills such as the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill and the so-called 'Foreign Fighters' bill, saying these measures passed with bipartisan support (though Opposition Leader Bill Shorten later wrote to Prime Minister Tony Abbott asking him to review the legislation, despite voting to pass it).

With the Parliament yet to vote on data retention, Brandis is once again calling for powers that would allow law enforcement and national security agencies access to two years worth of telecommunications data on every Australian.

Access to metadata is vital to investigate terrorism and organised crime. The bill does not propose any additional powers for national security agencies. It requires telecommunications companies to retain information they have routinely kept but which they might not keep in future.

Discussions are being undertaken between the government and industry to deal with the definition of the dataset and cost. Former ASIO director-general David Irvine has described the capacity of agencies to access metadata as 'absolutely crucial' in identifying terrorist networks and protecting the public.

With the link to the Sydney siege and recent events in Paris, Brandis' has once again couched data retention legislation in terms of the Government's efforts to stamp out terrorism, despite recognition that metadata could be used to enforce criminal law more generally and, potentially, civil matters such as piracy.