PM spruiks data retention as report blames Snowden for poor data sharing

“Strained” relationships between intelligence and business had impeded information sharing and compromised national security as a result, a report into Australia's counter terrorism capabilities has warned as Australian prime minister Tony Abbott stepped up his rhetoric about the need for data-retention legislation in a speech on national security this week.

Abbott's long-expected National Security Statement outlined a range of initiatives designed to increase overall national security, ranging from changes in the handling of dual-citizens' passports to the establishment of a National Counter Terrorism Coordinator.

Proposed data-retention laws – introduced on 30 October 2014 in the form of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 – were touched on during the course of the speech, with Abbott calling them “the vital next step in giving our agencies the tools they need to keep Australia safe.”

“Access to metadata is the common element to most successful counter-terrorism investigations,” Abbott said. “It's essential in fighting most major crimes, including the most abhorrent of all – crimes against children.”

Data retention has been a divisive issue in recent years. European Union laws requiring data retention were struck down last April but the Swedish government, for one, recently ordered an ISP to resume retaining customer communications data or face a hefty fine.Conversely, the Dutch government has struggled to pass similar legislation, with that country's privacy commissioner said proposed data-retention laws were non-compliant within the country's privacy regime.

In Australia, there have been concerns not only about the implications of broader surveillance but about issues such as the security of retained data.

The speech also saw the release of the Review of Australia's Counter-Terrorism Machinery, a formal report that warned that “the proliferation of communication platforms and encryption technology makes it difficult to maintain the expertise and access needed to detect and monitor terrorists' communications.”

“While much valuable intelligence is hidden by encryption, agencies also need to manage the volume of unencrypted metadata being created,” the report warned. “The challenges of managing and exploiting this data requires investment in new and unique tools, skills and innovation.”

The review highlighted the need for better information sharing between security agencies, which had been constrained by “strained” relationships between intelligence and business in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations and had “[made] it harder to access key data without legal compulsion.”

Warning that “the ongoing consequences of Edward Snowden's revelations are making the task of maintaining a technological 'edge' over terrorists more difficult,” the report also noted that terrorists were increasingly becoming attuned to surveillance efforts that had, in turn, become easier to avoid.

This meant that agencies “need to use increasingly intrusive and sophisticated monitoring measures”, the report concluded.

Observers weren't convinced: The Greens, for one, said in a statement that Abbott was “pushing the terror button”, “embedding himself in an agenda of fear and anxiety” and “is ignoring practical measures to make our streets safer”.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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Tags Tony Abbottdata retentiondata sharingnational securitySnowdenPMunencrypted metadataNational Counter Terrorism Coordinatordual-citizens' passports

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