Tony Negus, Australian Federal Police Commissioner, says the Australian police are not involved in spying. Photo: Nic Walker
Australian Federal Police commissioner Tony Negus has denied any links between US government surveillance programs and a controversial push to keep phone and internet browsing records in Australia for up to two years.
In an exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review, Mr Negus defended the local proposal for a mandatory data retention regime, which would force telecommunications companies such as Telstra to hold subscriber metadata - such as call records and billing information - for use in criminal investigations.
Authorities and telcos have negotiated the regime for several years behind closed doors but a final decision was delayed last month by the federal government until after the election, amid fears of a public backlash and conflation with revelations of widespread government surveillance in the US.
But Mr Negus sought to distance the plan from programs such as PRISM and a US data retention program that compelled mobile carriers AT&T, Verizon and Sprint to hold vast amounts of subscriber data for an indefinite period under secret court orders. "This is not about spying or proactively looking at things," Mr Negus said.
"I think there's been a lot of confusion in regards to some of the things we've seen come out of the US recently, about linking that to what's happening here in Australia.
"That's not the case as far as the Australian Federal Police is concerned."
Mr Negus said the AFP regularly liaised with authorities in the US and Britain through mutual assistance treaties, but denied receiving any information from PRISM or similar programs. But he said public fears of data retention were based on a "misconception".
POLICE CHECKED 43,000 LAST YEAR
"From our perspective, the 43,000 checks we did last year only relate to the investigation of a criminal offence," he said. "This is about the investigation of terrorism and organised crime.
"Where we have specific information that we are investigating, we'll use those checks to support [it], and sometimes this will clear people from what the allegations actually might be."
He said data retention would become "one of the most important things law enforcement has to deal with and the government has to deal with, really, in this decade".
Authorities already use legislation to request subscriber data from telcos, with more than 300,000 requests in the past financial year. But they say they fear access to the telecommunications data is being lost as carriers modernise their systems, and users use the internet more instead of traditional phone calls and messaging.
Carriers have pushed back on the proposal, primarily due to the cost of storing and managing significant amounts of subscriber records.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.