Security bureaucrats are keeping secret the details of a plan to store the internet history of all Australians for at least two years
The Australian Prime Minister's department has rejected a Freedom of Information application by Fairfax Media for release of its file on the proposed "third tranche" of national security laws on the grounds that declassification would "substantially and unreasonably divert the Department's resources from its other operations".
The rejection has triggered calls by the Australian Greens for the Senate to demand full disclosure of the Federal Government's data retention plans.
At the same time, the Attorney-General's Department has refused an application by the pro-transparency Pirate Party Australia for release of the draft national security and data retention laws on the grounds that any disclosure would "prejudice ... current negotiations and decision-making processes that are in train".
It's not the first time the government has stonewalled requests for information on the proposal - in July 2010 the Attorney-General's department refused to release a document relating to the plan out of fear it could cause "premature unnecessary debate".
In May, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon released a national security discussion paper that canvassed proposals for compulsory two-year data retention by telecommunications and internet service providers, streamlining telecommunications interception approvals, and enhancing stop-and-search powers for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
Ms Roxon has argued that compulsory data retention is essential so that "vital investigative tools are not lost as telecommunications providers update their business practices and begin to delete data more regularly".
"The loss of this capability would be a major blow to our law enforcement agencies and to Australia's national security," she has said.
Ms Roxon has insisted that a review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security of governments - based on the government's discussion paper, but not draft legislation that was completed by her department late last year - constitutes a new level of transparency in national security policy-making.
"The Government is putting all options on the table so the Australian public, experts and politicians can engage in this important national debate," Ms Roxon said in a speech to national security officials last month.
However Steve McFarlane, assistant secretary heading the Defence and Intelligence Branch of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has refused to process Fairfax Media's FOI application for access to papers relating to the data retention and other proposals on the grounds that reviewing 21 documents totalling 93 pages would result in a "substantial impairment" to the operations of the Department.
Mr McFarlane further insisted that most of the material would be withheld from public access anyway owing to the "sensitive nature of the subject matter".
Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam yesterday condemned the Federal Government's refusal of FOI applications and said he would seek a Senate order for tabling of all relevant advice provided to Ms Roxon including "technical and political advice arising from meetings with experts and industry representatives, [and] costings and methodology for reaching estimates of costings".
Pirate Party Australia spokesperson Rodney Serkowski said the Attorney-General department's refusal to release the government's draft legislation was "disgraceful and troubling".
"They have completed draft legislation, prior to any transparent or consultative process, and are now denying access to that legislation, for reasons that are highly dubious ... it is in the public interest that we are able to access the text of such proposals so as to properly inform public debate."
- Sydney Morning Herald