news Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has not responded to a request for basic information on whether Labor will support adding any of the 61 agencies who have applied to the bipartisan data retention scheme which passed Parliament in 2015.
The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015 passed the Federal Parliament in March 2015. For the first time, it forces Australian telcos and Internet service providers to retain comprehensive records on their customers’ Internet and telephone habits for a period of two years.
However, it also limited the government agencies which could access that data to 21 — which the Government described at the time as law enforcement agencies pursuing serious crimes such as terrorism.
Yesterday it was revealed that 61 separate departments and agencies had petitioned Federal Attorney-General George Brandis to be added to the scheme to access metadata without a warrant.
The list (available in full in PDF format) contains a number of agencies which were already believed to have applied for the metadata access powers, such as the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Services.
However, it also included a number of government authorities which most would believe had no cause to access telecommunications metadata, such as the National Measurement Institute, Access Canberra (the Department of Treasury and Economic Development), Bankstown City Council, Greyhound Racing Victoria, Harness Racing New South Wales, and the RSPCA.
Yesterday, Delimiter asked the office of Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to respond to a series of basic questions about the issue.
Delimiter firstly asked Dreyfus whether Labor believed there were any departments/agencies on the list which should be added to the data retention scheme.
Secondly, Delimiter asked Dreyfus whether Labor believed some of the agencies’ names should be withheld from the public. The Attorney-General’s Department has withheld the names of four agencies from being published, on the basis that revealing them would damage Commonwealth/State relations.
Delimiter also asked Dreyfus whether he had spoken to Brandis or the Attorney-General’s staff on the matter, and what Labor expected its next steps to be in dealing with the proposed huge expansion of the data retention scheme.
Labor’s views on the matter are critical, because although Brandis can personally provisionally approve new agencies for metadata access, ultimately that ratification must be approved by the Parliament, and will especially be examined by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which only Labor and the Coalition sit on.
However, Dreyfus has not responded to Delimiter’s request for comment after 24 hours; Delimiter believes the Shadow Attorney-General does not plan to respond.
The lack of response continues a history of a lack of transparency from Dreyfus on digital rights issues.
For example, prior to the 2013 Federal Election, Dreyfus — then the Attorney-General — flatly refused to take part in a live election interview on key technology issues in his portfolio, such as copyright reform, data retention, telecommunications surveillance and Internet piracy.
The lack of transparency comes as Dreyfus has personally insisted that the Attorney-General of the day should be more transparent, attempting to force Brandis to release documents such as his ministerial diary and incoming ministerial briefing.