The Government announced yesterday that it would draft legislation to compel telephone and internet companies to keep metadata – information on customers’ calls and internet use – for security agencies to access.
This morning, Mr Abbott said authorities would be able to see what internet sites people were viewing.
“It is not what you’re doing on the internet, it’s the sites you’re visiting,” he told Channel Nine.
“It’s not the content, it’s just where you have been, so to speak.”
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But later Mr Abbott said the metadata to be collected would not include people’s browsing history.
“We are not seeking content, we are seeking metadata,” he said.
He used a metaphor to explain that “metadata is the material on the front of the envelope, and the contents of the letter will remain private”.
“All we want is for the telecommunications companies to continue to keep the person sending the information, the person to whom the information is being sent, the time it was sent and the place it was sent from,” he added.
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson says the proposed changes are a threat to privacy.
“I dismiss the idea that metadata is just an irrelevant part of the discussion so long as it doesn’t relate to content,” he said.
Liberal frontbencher Stuart Robert says he has no problem with people’s web-browsing history being stored.
“Not at all, keeping in mind Google already stores your browsing history as it is,” he said.
Telcos have resisted the proposed security law changes, with Australia’s second-biggest broadband provider, iiNet, saying a data retention system would cost it alone around $100 million.
The company’s chief regulatory officer, Steve Dalby, told ABC’s PM program last month that what is missing from the debate is the Government’s definition of metadata.
“[What’s missing is] some specifics about what is going to be retained,” he said.
“When we talk about data retention, it can be everything from a very small amount to a mind-boggling amount of data that is generated when people use telecommunications services – whether that’s telephony, which is on the low side, or it’s the internet, which generates massive amounts of metadata.”