Australia's national security service ASIO used its submission to a parliamentary inquiry into Australia's telecommunications laws to call for additional surveillance powers, as a result of what they say is an increase in encryption after Edward Snowden leaked sensitive documents.
The 'Snowden files', a series of documents leaked by 29-year-old former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden in June 2013, revealed a number of mass-surveillance programs put in place by the USA's NSA and the UK's GCHQ, as well as the Australian government.
According to ASIO the release of these files means new changes are needed in a move that would force providers to keep all customers' metadata for a prescribed period.
"These changes are becoming far more significant in the security environment following the leaks of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.," ASIO said in its submission.
"Since the Snowden leaks, public reporting suggests the level of encryption on the Internet has increased substantially. In direct response to these leaks, the technology industry is driving the development of new Internet standards with the goal of having all Web activity encrypted, which will make the challenges of traditional telecommunications interception for necessary national security purposes far more complex," the organisation said.
The enquiry was launched by Greens senator Scott Ludlam, who is currently up for re-election in Western Australia. Ludlam said changes were necessary to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act to protect the privacy of Australian citizens, who need to "fight back."
"in the last decade or so, this warranted interceptions regime has been utterly wormholed, circumvented to the point of obsolescence," Ludlam wrote in The Guardian last month. Ludlam has praised Snowden, while Attorney-General George Brandis has labelled him a "traitor."
"The advent of the smartphone, in ceaseless communication with GPS satellites and servers all over the world, and the rapid expansion of “big data” have resulted in staggering volumes of detailed information available to dozens of government agencies with a few keystrokes. The legal protections that apply to agencies wanting to listen in on your phone call are completely void when it comes to mapping your social networks, financial habits, medical conditions, and precise location everywhere you take your phone," Ludlam wrote.
"Intelligence agencies do not have to conform to even these restrictions, and deploy the “national security” trump card to justify remaining entirely outside freedom of information laws or the reporting obligations that other agencies have to deal with."
The intelligence and law enforcement agencies say however that the surveillance they carry out is limited, and the laws do need to be changed but in order to keep up to date with the way people now communicate online.
The Northern Territory Police said in its submission it thinks telcos should have the power to store users' basic metadata but also their browsing histories for two years, while Victoria Police said it "strongly" supported the implementation of a data retention regime, and said users' browsing histories hould be stored "to the extent that they do not identify the content of a communication".
ASIO also used its subbmission to strongly defend itself against what it sees as "misconceptions", writing "ASIO does not have the resources, the need, or the inclination to undertake the large-scale mass gathering of telecommunications data often alluded to in the public sphere."
"In any one year a very small minority of the Australian community (a few thousand people at most) come to ASIO’s notice through security investigations, inquiries and leads; multiple requests for access to basic telecommunications data are required in most of these cases.
"Of this minority only a small proportion may be suspected of seeking to do actual harm to Australia, its people or its interests. It is this small proportion who may be subject to more intrusive investigation, including telecommunications interception of content under warrant where needed."
Other groups called for more drastic measures, like for the TIA Act to be replaced entirely. The Pirate Party, a registered Australian political party, used its submission to call for a restriction on government powers related to surveillance, and also for a more transparent security operation and an outlawing of warrantless interceptions.
"The TIA Act is more than 30 years old, and was enacted in the pre-Internet era," the party wrote.
"It is clear that legislation that does not anticipate technological change soon becomes outdated and used in ways that they were not intended to be used, or ways that are unacceptably
broad. Another consideration is social change, and that was appropriate in the past is often no longer appropriate for a modern society.
The full range of submissions are available online.