CANBERRA, June 24 Australia's government on
Monday shelved plans to force phone and Internet companies to
hold two years of phone call and email data following concerns
raised by a parliamentary inquiry into telecommunications
The move follows long-running criticism by privacy advocates
in Australia, and comes in the aftermath of revelations in the
United States, where spy agency contractor Edward Snowden
exposed secret U.S. surveillance of vast amounts of Internet
data under a programe known as Prism.
The government had wanted phone and Internet companies to
hold metadata for two years to help fight criminal activity, but
lawmakers on the telecommunications inquiry called for changes.
They said Internet browsing data should be excluded from the
plans, and called for greater oversight of government agency
access to telecommunications data by the ombudsmen and the
Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus responded to the inquiry
findings by delaying any changes until after the September 14
parliamentary election and only after further consultations.
"The government will not pursue a mandatory data retention
regime at this time and will await further advice," Dreyfus said
in a statement after the report was tabled.
Conservative opposition lawmakers, who are expected to win
power in September, have raised concerns about surveillance of
cloud server data stored in the United States, but are still
likely to support the new laws in Australia if they take office.
The influential Australian Greens Party, which holds the
balance of power in the upper house, said the security and
intelligence committee report reflected political and privacy
concerns first raised last year about plans to collect and store
the telephone and email data of all Australians.
"This report refused to endorse data retention and condemned
Government's secretive approach," said Greens communications
spokesman Scott Ludlum.
The report did not specifically mention the Prism
programme, as its hearings were completed before the Snowden
revelations about Prism.
But the inquiry's report did raise concerns about the wide
number of Australian government agencies able to access private
data, with 293,501 requests made in 2011-12 to access
communications data without a warrant.
(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Ron Popeski)