Govt dumps discrimination law change for NSA-style snooping

THE Abbott government appears another step closer to forcing internet service providers and phone companies to retain users' metadata for up to two years.

Plans for data retention, encouraged by Australia's intelligence community, are already being actively considered by the government, as part of a Senate inquiry.

But the plans, which senior government members remain divided about, have been consistently hosed down by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis.

Data retention was mooted by Labor more than two years ago, before they were shelved amid fears of personal privacy breaches.

But the proposal has remained on the agenda, with Australian Security Intelligence Organisation chief David Irvine just three weeks ago confirming they were being "actively considered".

A News Ltd report on Tuesday morning surprised some senior government members, reporting data retention plans were to be considered at a meeting of the National Security Committee on Tuesday.

The controversial practice has been criticised by privacy and libertarian advocates, including the Institute of Public Affairs which on Tuesday labelled them a threat to democracy.

Plans could include forcing phone companies and ISPs to retain the metadata - including times, dates and locations of calls and internet access - for two years, in case intelligence authorities need access.

It could also reverse the onus of proof, so that government authorities would not need to prove they suspected a surveillance target of illegal or suspicious activity before monitoring their metadata.

Labor leader Bill Shorten would not specify what the Opposition's position on data retention was now, but he would greet any plans with "an open mind".

The Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt described any plans to retain Australian citizen's metadata as a "massive overreach" and part of a "plan to spy on every Australian".



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