Asio and federal police seek to clear up confusion over metadata collection

Metadata would not include list of sites visited by internet users under proposed mandatory data retention, authorities say

, political correspondent  Friday 8 August 2014 16.16 AEST

George Brandis
George Brandis on Sky. Photograph:

The attorney general caused confusion by saying that metadata would include details of sites visited. Australia’s intelligence and police chiefs have moved to clear up confusion over the reach of the government’s proposed mandatory data retention scheme.

The customer information that could be accessed without a warrant would not include which websites people had visited, they said.

The attorney general, George Brandis, muddied the waters on Wednesday when he indicated the “metadata” to be retained by internet service providers (ISPs) for two years would include “the web address” of each site that a person visited.

The communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who was revealed by Guardian Australia to have complained in cabinet about the lack of factual information about how it would work in practice, sought to clear up the matter on Friday, while saying that metadata meant different things to different people.

Turnbull said a user’s web browsing history would not be captured, but simply the internet protocol (IP) address that the user had used to connect to the internet at a particular time.

“There has been some concern expressed that the government was proposing that telcos should retain for two years a record of the websites that you visit when you’re online, whether that’s expressed in the form of their domain names or their IP [internet protocol] addresses – in other words, that there would be a requirement to keep a two-year record of your web browsing or web surfing history,” Turnbull told the ABC.

“That is not the case. What they are seeking is that the traditional telephone records that are currently kept, and by some ISPs and telcos for more than two years, that is the caller, the called party – you know, I called you, time of call, duration of call … they want them to be kept for two years. And they also want the IP address, which is the number that is assigned to your phone or your computer when you go online by your ISP, so that you can be connected on the internet. And, that is of course connected, that the ISP knows that IP address is connected to your account. That’s recorded in their records. They want that information to be kept for two years.”

Blog Editors Note:

Yes…mudding the waters he did. So what is Meta Data??

According to our often go to guide Wikipedia Meta Data is defined as;

Metadata is “data about data”. The term is ambiguous, as it is used for two fundamentally different concepts (types). Structural metadata is about the design and specification of data structures and is more properly called “data about the containers of data”; descriptive metadata, on the other hand, is about individual instances of application data, the data content.

Metadata is traditionally in the card catalogs of libraries. As information has become increasingly digital, metadata are also used to describe digital data using metadata standards specific to a particular discipline.

The main purpose of metadata is to facilitate in the discovery of relevant information, more often classified as resource discovery. Metadata also helps organize electronic resources, provide digital identification, and helps support archiving and preservation of the resource. Metadata assists in resource discovery by “allowing resources to be found by relevant criteria, identifying resources, bringing similar resources together, distinguishing dissimilar resources, and giving location information.” [1]

Metadata (metacontent) are defined as the data providing information about one or more aspects of the data, such as:

  • Means of creation of the data
  • Purpose of the data
  • Time and date of creation
  • Creator or author of the data
  • Location on a computer network where the data were created
  • Standards used

In other words just about everything to do with your search history


The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) chief, David Irvine, and the Australian federal police (AFP) deputy commissioner, Andrew Colvin, fronted the media later on Friday to similarly reject concerns that search histories or each website visited would be covered by metadata.

Irvine and Colvin also dismissed suggestions that the existing system for seeking authorisation to access metadata should be toughened to a specific warrant scheme, saying such a step would severely hamper investigations.

Addressing concerns about privacy violations, Irvine emphasised that police and security agencies had been accessing metadata “for many years” and that process would not change. He said although telecommunications providers had traditionally kept such data for their own commercial billing purposes, a mandatory data retention scheme was needed to ensure it was stored and continued to be available for two years.

Colvin said the scheme was aimed at ensuring “consistency in the storage provisions” because as technology advanced there were concerns the material would no longer be available to law enforcement agencies and some telcos held less data.

He sought to draw a distinction between metadata and the actual content – the latter required a warrant to access and judicial oversight.

The websites that a person visited and the “destination IP addresses” were content, and would be inaccessible without a warrant, Colvin said. He said after accessing the metadata as an “initial investigative tool” police might seek a warrant for content.

Irvine gave an example of a potential scenario in which Asio received information from another source that an al-Qaida website had been accessed by a particular IP address in Australia, and it could ask ISPs to identify which user that was at that time.

Metadata would include the senders and recipients of emails, but not the content, and not the individual websites people visited. The IP address through which a person accessed the internet would, however, be included in metadata.

Irvine hit back at claims of mass surveillance, saying the government was not storing the data itself and agencies only accessed it when needed for investigations.

“The way in which we access it is very closely monitored and oversighted, in our case by the inspector-general of intelligence and security,” Irvine said.

“This is not some great mass surveillance exercise or mass invasion of privacy of every citizen in Australia. It is very, very carefully targeted against those people who give us good reason to suspect that they may be engaged in activities which are a threat to national security and the lives of Australians.”

Bret Walker SC, whose term as the independent national security legislation monitor expired earlier this year, has backed the need to collect and store metadata, but suggested a warrant system for agencies to access it.

Irvine said if a warrant was required for every single request for metadata “the whole system would grind to a halt”.

“It’s the equivalent of asking you to write a three-page letter every time you want to look up the telephone book,” he said.

Colvin said he could not “overstate how damaging that would be to our ability to prevent crime and solve crime in this country”.

“We’re not asking for something that is unique to the Australian environment,” he said.

The acting leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, said government ministers, Asio and the AFP were “all saying different things about metadata” and “this remains a dog of a policy”.

Turnbull said the government was still formulating its policy “in consultation with telcos”.