Brandis lashes out at Labor over data retention doubts

Attorney General George Brandis has accused Labor of not treating national security as a priority, following the party's decision to review its support for the controversial data retention legislation it helped pass into law four months ago.

Following Labor's National Conference, Brandis issued a release claiming that national security isn't a priority for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and criticising him for not mentioning "the fight against terrorism" in his opening address.

During the conference, the party passed an amendment to review mandatory data retention, with a focus on warrantless access.

"Labor wants to ensure that the types of agencies with access to the data and purposes for which the data is available are appropriate," says the amendment. "We want to ensure that the current warrants scheme and the threshold conditions on warrantless access are appropriate and that freedom of the press is protected."

The Attorney General lashed out at Labor for this decision.

"Alarmingly, the convention also cast doubts upon Labor's support for mandatory data retention laws, which they supported in Parliament earlier this year," wrote Brandis. "Bill Shorten and Mark Dreyfus must stick to their word and recommit the Labor Party to this legislation."

"Mr. Shorten must confirm that if elected, he will not repeal our data retention laws. The Australian people deserve the certainty that our national security agencies will continue to have access to the data they need to investigate and interdict terrorist networks."

Under the data retention laws, internet service providers (ISPs) and telcos will be required to store their customers' metadata for two years and allow over 80 securities agencies warrantless access.

While the Bill was under debate, Greens Deputy Leader Scott Ludlam accused Labor of supporting the scheme to avoid being seen as weak on "national security", a key message used by the Bill's proponents. 

"When Prime Minister Abbott wraps himself in the flag, no matter how much an object of desperate ridicule he's become, that's the signal for the Australian Labor Party to say something earnest about finding the balance, and then to cave in," said Ludlam. "Two words: National Security. [That] is all it takes for the Australian Labor Party to flop into defeated bipartisanship, because they're terrified that the Daily Telegraph will say mean things about them."

Following Labor's decision to review its support for the legislation, Ludlam tweeted that that it was "too late" for the party to try and "reinvent data retention history".

Former iiNet senior executive John Lindsay criticised Labor for "trying to have it both ways".

"Reports that you’re 'rethinking' data retention mean you’ve worked out your supporter base doesn’t actually like surveillance," wrote Lindsay on his blog. "You unquestioningly supported it in spite of the evidence put in front of you by experts. So now it’s yours. You made it. You didn’t OPPOSE it, so you get no credit for opposing it now."

Despite others' criticisms, advocacy groups Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) and Internet Australia welcomed Labor's decision.

"We think there's serious issues around retention period, scope, access, and judicial oversight, and we're pleased the Labor party wants to do something about that," EFA Executive Officer Jon Lawrence told CyberShack.

Lawrence described Brandis' release as "hysterical," saying it is "clear that Mr. Brandis has no credibility on the issue".

"There are clear reasons enforcement agencies should have access to data, but national security isn't a reason to shut down debate."

Internet Australia issued a media release stating that it "applauds the decision" to hold a review of the data retention act.

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