NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says Australians will have to sacrifice some of their privacy expectations in order to stay safe from terrorist attacks and criminal activity.
Mr Scipione made the comments at a Trans-Tasman Business Circle event in Sydney. He was responding to a Fairfax Media question about how data retention laws championed by Australian authorities would affect goodwill towards police in the community.
Data retention laws would require internet service providers and telcos to collect and store information about their customers' internet habits in order to help identify potential security risks.
Mr Scipione said it was perplexing that, as consumers, people were prepared to sacrifice their privacy in order to receive discounts and better deals but not for the sake of their safety.
''At what stage does the community say, 'we’re prepared to give up some of our privacy in order to remain secure'?,'' he said.
Mr Scipione has been one of the most vocal of Australia’s police commissioners pursuing the laws, which would also require carriers to collect information to identify who is involved in communications on their networks, including their location and the time they make them, but not the content of those communications.
They would be required to keep the information to be made available for interception warrants for at least two years.
Former Labor attorney-general Mark Dreyfus shelved plans for the regime in June last year following a public backlash over privacy and after the parliamentary committee overseeing the plan expressed concerns about its impact.
But law enforcement officers, including Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris have remained vocal about the need to introduce them and the proposed legislative amendments have been referred to a Senate committee as part of a sweeping review of telecommunications interception laws.
The proposed data retention laws have drawn strong criticism from carriers, the legal community, civil liberty group and privacy advocates.
Law firm Gilbert & Tobin wrote in a submission to the parliamentary committee examining the bill that its discussion paper regarding the new laws failed to ''give enough attention to civil liberties''.
Similarly, Electronic Frontiers Australia told the committee the data retention regime ''would amount to an unprecedented program of mass surveillance that would invade the privacy of all Australians in the name of catching a tiny minority of serious wrong-doers''.
Mr Scipione conceded that policing authorities' handling of the issue with the public had been less than perfect.
''It’s a big issue,'' he said. "It’s a conversation that needs to be had. I don’t know that law enforcement has done enough to explain why we need to do it. The communication gap is the thing that is causing the most angst.
''It’s the debate that needs to be had, and for that reason I’m pleased that even in forums like this we’re talking about it.''
Mr Scipione also left his critics with a dire warning. ''The day will come when the next terrorist attack on the planet will cause authorities somewhere to come back to their police, to their security services, their intelligence services and say, 'go and find who did this'.
''Before that they might say, 'go and look for who might do that' - go looking for the needle in the haystack. Well, the problem we have got is that, if we don’t get this right, we won’t find a needle because we won’t have a haystack to look in.''