Australia's Spymaster Just Gave A Stunning Analogy For How Often Metadata Is Accessed

ASIO director general David Irvine. Screengrab

ASIO boss David Irvine was speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra today about the role of the intelligence agencies, evolving threats of radicalised Islamic Australians, and the proposals for another $630 million in counter-terrorism spending recently announced by the government.

One of the controversial aspects of the new spending package is a requirement for internet service providers to store metadata on their users for two years. This has sparked concerns about widespread surveillance of the population, and also some confusion about precisely what data will be collected.

Irvine, who has previously described the metadata retention proposals as not a set of new powers but a “consolidation of existing ones” said that the existing accessing of metadata – which intelligence agencies currently do on a targeted basis – is used “very frequently” already.

He compared the rate of usage as similar to how often “someone would look up a telephone book” to search for a number in the pre-internet days.

He also explained that if spies and police needed a warrant as frequently as they needed to look up phone numbers back in the day, all intelligence-gathering and law enforcement activity in Australia would “come to a halt”.

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