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Oz drops web surveillance plans – for now


Philip Dorling |

A CONTROVERSIAL internet security plan to store the web history of all Australians for up to two years has been stalled by the federal government until after the next election.

Security bureaucrats have drafted legislation to expand internet surveillance and security powers, but Attorney-General Nicola Roxon decided to first refer a discussion paper to a parliamentary committee.

Senior intelligence officials, who have been pushing for the increased powers, complain the legislation will be delayed until after the election due next year.

The national security discussion paper released last month by Ms Roxon canvasses proposals for compulsory internet data retention, forcing people to give up computer passwords, streamlining telecommunications interception approvals, and enhancing stop and search powers for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

A senior national security official told Fairfax Media yesterday that Ms Roxon’s decision to refer the proposals to the parliamentary joint committee for intelligence and security was symptomatic of ”the risk adverse character of the government”.

“These reforms are urgently needed to deal with a rapidly evolving security environment, but there isn’t much appetite within the government for anything that attracts controversy,” the official said.

National security community dissatisfaction with Ms Roxon comes as Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday announced a long delayed review of federal and state counter-terrorism laws introduced after the 2005 London terrorist bombings.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday a committee led by retired NSW judge Anthony Whealy, QC, would review legislation governing control orders, preventative detention and ”certain emergency stop, question and search powers held by police”. The review had originally been scheduled to commence in 2010.

Attorney-General’s department briefing papers released under freedom of information legislation show that when Ms Roxon took office as Attorney-General last December, her department had already prepared an “exposure draft” of amendments to Australia‘s security and intelligence laws.

Subject to Ms Roxon’s agreement and consultation with the security watchdog, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, it was proposed by her department that the draft legislative package be considered by the National Committee of Cabinet in February, and the full cabinet in May.

However, the department also warned that amendments to surveillance powers “usually draw media and public attention” and that “the scale of changes being developed will mean that it is highly likely that there will be significant public interest”.

In a recent interview, Ms Roxon said she was “not yet convinced” about the merits of the proposal for compulsory data retention that would enable intelligence and security agencies to examine a person’s internet usage.

A spokesman for Ms Roxon has confirmed she rejected the approach of her predecessor, former attorney-general Robert McClelland, who had approved the development of the legislative package.

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