Data retention inquiry to report in early 2015

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to hold first public hearing this month

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has begun its scrutiny of the government's data retention bill.

A statement issued on behalf of the committee said it intended to release its report on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 by 27 February 2015.

Three public hearings have so far been scheduled for the inquiry: 17 December, 28 January and 29 January.

The committee is accepting submissions on the proposed legislation until 19 January.

"We will be considering the appropriateness of the data retention regime proposed in this bill and its application to the investigation and prosecution of serious criminal offences and to countering threats to national security," the chair of the PJCIS, Liberal MP Dan Tehan, said in a statement.

"Safeguards and oversight will be a key focus for the committee."

The government introduced the data retention bill last month.

The PJCIS inquiry into the bill comes in the wake of criticism of the legislation by other parliamentary committees.

Earlier this month the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights called for the government to spell out in legislation what sort of metadata will be collected under its data retention regime.

Although the government has already outlined the type of metadata it is interested in, the bill is designed so that the categories of data that service providers will be required to retain will be spelled out in regulations.

Similarly, commentary issued by Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills states that the data retention bill "does not itself contain a clear definition of the specific types of data that are covered by the data retention scheme".

"The types of data that must be collected, therefore, need to be specified by a regulation made pursuant to paragraph 187A(1)(a) [of the bill]... the committee does not consider paragraph 187A(1)(a) to be an appropriate delegation of legislative power,"

Earlier this year the PJCIS effectively rubber-stamped legislation, opposed by many of the same individuals and organisations that have criticised the looming introduction of a data retention scheme, that dramatically increased the hacking powers of Australia's intelligence agencies.

In the previous parliament, a PJCIS report on changes to national security laws made took an ambivalent stance on the introduction of a mandatory data retention regime but listed a series of recommendations for such a regime if the government decided to pursue it.

In addition to limiting the data collected to so-called metadata and excluding Internet browsing data, both suggestions that are already incorporated in the current bill, it recommended that the cost of the scheme should be borne by the government not Internet service providers.

Who pays for mandatory data retention has been a fraught issue. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam earlier this week sought to force the government to reveal a PricewaterhouseCoopers study that assessed the potential cost to industry of data retention.

The 2013 PJCIS report also recommended that the committee conduct ongoing scrutiny of the operation of a data retention regime.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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