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Lack of data records prevents serious crime investigations, AFP Commissioner tells parliamentary committee investigating new security laws

By political reporters Susan McDonald and Anna Henderson

Photo: The Chairman of the parliamentary committee investigating new counterterrorism laws is asking whether the Government needs further powers. (Audience submitted: Peter Morgan)

Related Story: Counter-terrorism laws unlikely to ever be wound back: Bret Walker

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin has warned of “grave implications” for terrorism investigations if telecommunications companies are not forced to keep phone and internet data.

Commissioner Andrew Colvin and other senior security officials were giving evidence to a parliamentary committee inquiring into proposed legislation making it mandatory for telcos to keep certain types of data for two years.

Mr Colvin told the hearing in Canberra agencies could not be left to “rely on luck” to deal with serious threats and serious crimes.

“I could not understate enough that it would have grave implications for law enforcement’s ability in this country to investigate, deter and disrupt potential terrorist acts,” Mr Colvin said.

He said that as more telcos were entering the market, less data was being kept and for shorter periods.

He emphasised that data had played a key role in terrorism, corruption and child exploitation investigations.

Mr Colvin gave the example of an online child exploitation case in 2013, where the lack of internet records retained by service providers prevented the investigation of 156 potential offenders.

“If those ISPs [internet service providers] face the consistent obligation to retain data for two years as proposed under this Bill, it’s quite possible additional persons of interest, some of whom appeared to be involved in serious offending, could have been identified and properly investigated,” he said.

New anti-terrorism laws explained

Find out more about the Government’s suite of proposed anti-terrorism laws targeting so-called foreign fighters and Australian terror threats.

Of the AFP investigations that started between July and September this year, telecommunications data has been used in 92 per cent of counterterrorism investigations, 100 per cent of cyber crime investigations, 87 per cent of child protection investigations and 79 per cent of serious organised crime investigations.

The Joint Intelligence and Security Committee was investigating the Government’s third wave of national security laws into phone and computer data retention.

Committee chairman Dan Tehan earlier asked whether the Government needed further powers in the wake of the Sydney siege.

Mr Tehan said he expected the Government to separately consider whether its new suite of measures would be enough to prevent lone wolf attacks.

“We’ve got to have a proper inquiry about that,” Mr Tehan said.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and say, ‘OK, we need to do this, this and this’.

“Let’s examine the facts, let’s have a proper look at it and then work out, ‘OK, do we need to make some changes?'”

The committee observed a minute’s silence in recognition of the hostages killed in the Sydney siege yesterday.

Mr Tehan started today’s hearing by acknowledging the violence and describing it as “a despicable attack on Australians at home”.

“Tragically two innocent people have lost their lives, Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson,” he said.

“The impact on their family and their friends will be deep and everlasting.

“Threats of terrorism or terrorist acts will not change this nation, they will only strengthen our resolve.

“The values that we hold dear as Australians are the best way to defeat this evil.”

The committee was set to examine the next package of proposed counterterrorism laws.

Those listed to front the committee today include Australia’s top spy, ASIO Director General Duncan Lewis.

The committee was also expected to hear from the Australian Crime Commission and the Attorney-General’s department.