The Attorney-General's Department has rushed to implement a set of wide-ranging reforms and extensions to telecommunications and IT interception powers for intelligence and law enforcement agencies, new documents reveal.
Within weeks of George Brandis being appointed Attorney-General in September, his department began a concerted push to obtain his approval for the development of a package of reforms along the lines proposed by then-attorney-general Nicola Roxon in 2012, starting with an industry consultation process. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act
(large PDF) -- heavily redacted or exempted -- show the department eager to use the report of Parliament's Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security as a "road map" to implement over 40 reforms.
The JCIS report
, under the chairmanship of Labor backbencher Anthony Byrne, assessed the Roxon reforms from May 2012 to June last year in a process that directed much of its focus to the controversial issue of data retention. Brandis himself was a member of the committee and said to be significantly less enthusiastic about data retention than colleagues like Philip Ruddock. Eventually the committee declined to make a recommendation on a data retention scheme, saying it was a matter for government, but suggested if a scheme was under consideration it return to the committee as draft legislation.
The department -- consistent with its public submissions elsewhere -- appears to be treading softly on the issue, repeatedly noting the committee's position on data retention in its internal briefs and briefing for Brandis. For internal purposes, the department's formal "line" on the subject was that it would "carefully consider the guidance of the committee".
But JCIS is now a very different body from the one of the previous Parliament. Byrne, who guided the committee to a unanimous position in that report amid intense scrutiny from online groups, is now deputy chair to former diplomat Dan Tehan; Andrew Wilkie is no longer a member while several backbenchers with military backgrounds have joined. Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek also joined the committee, despite the perception that JCIS works best when it is free of the executive of both government and opposition. It was Plibersek who last weekend suggested she was relaxed about data retention, apparently falling into line with briefings from intelligence agencies that data retention was crucial to security. Intelligence and police agencies insist that mandatory retention of phone and internet records is needed to stop terrorism and solve crime.
The Roxon proposals
were a long wishlist of reforms sought by intelligence agencies, including extending surveillance powers to social media companies and giving ASIO the power to break into and install malware on computers in order to get closer to surveillance targets. However, the reform that AGD is pursuing as a priority relates to a new "security framework" as part of a Telecommunications Sector Security Reform process ...