The federal government will not require internet companies to
store people's web browsing history as part of its new
counter-terrorism plans, despite the prime minister
suggesting it would.
Tony Abbott created confusion around the suite of measures on
Wednesday when he tried to explain what types of customer
metadata telecommunications companies would be required to
keep for two years.
While it's expected the information about Australians' calls,
texts and emails will be included, Mr Abbott suggested web
browser history could also be captured.
"It's not what you're doing on the internet, it's the sites
you're visiting," he told the Nine Network on Wednesday
"It's not the content, it's just where you've been, so to
But the prime minister's office later clarified his
statement, saying browser history was not metadata and
government agencies would still need a warrant to access such
Defending the data-retention plans, Mr Abbott described
metadata as not being the "content of the letter but what's
on the envelope".
In relation to mobile phones, metadata includes information
such as origin and destination phone numbers, the billing
name and address of both parties, time and duration of the
correspondence, and the telecommunications tower used.
It does not include the content of the correspondence.
Online metadata covers the user-specific internet identifier
code, IP addresses visited and the time, duration and number
It does not include the content of web browsing.
Mr Abbott said telecommunications companies already kept such
information, and the government was simply asking them to
continue to do so.
"I have no doubt the civil libertarian brigade will do their
best to stop this but my responsibility as prime minister is
to keep our country safe," he said.
"All of the expert advice from every single counter-terrorist
agency is that this information is absolutely essential if we
are to maintain our vigilance against terrorist activity."
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor respected the fact
that national security laws needed updating for the modern
"But we also have concerns that when you store so much
information about so many Australians that this needs to be
done very carefully and in a considered way ... so there is
no risk that ordinary Australians are being treated as if
they are criminals," he said.
Mr Shorten was also concerned that internet service providers
might pass the cost of their data storage on to customers.
Attorney-General George Brandis said the electronic signature
of websites could be recorded under the new laws, but clicks
within a particular website would not.
"When you visit a website, people browse from one thing to
the next (within the same site)," he told Sky News.
"That browsing history won't be retained and there won't be
any capacity to access that."
However, the metadata being sought by agencies included the
electronic addresses of visited websites, which computer
accessed them, the time they were accessed and the durations,