THE Gillard government has defended a plan to force telcos to store internet and phone data of all Australians for up to two years, saying it is needed to allow intelligence and police agencies to effectively target organised criminals and terrorists.
''In this day and age, an age where governments all around the world are grappling with the challenges of terrorism and organised crime, it is important that our relevant agencies have access to the information that they need,'' the Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, said.
The Coalition, however, has refused to support the controversial data retention scheme. Its legal spokesman, George Brandis, who also sits on the committee reviewing the proposal, said he would ''examine the issues carefully''.
His response was sparked by a report in yesterday's Herald that stated the scheme was being considered as part of a review of national security legislation by a parliamentary committee.
It is just one of more than 40 proposals contained in a discussion paper for the committee. If passed it would be the most significant expansion of the intelligence community's powers since the Howard-era reforms of the early 2000s.
Similar data retention schemes proposed in the United States and Britain have sparked fierce debate, and despite significant lobbying have failed to meet with public approval. The government's announcement also sparked strong criticism from the Greens and civil liberties groups.
One of the scheme's most vocal opponents, the Greens senator Scott Ludlam, said the Gillard government had yet to make a case for mandatory data retention.
''I don't buy it. Just because these forms of data exist doesn't mean we should track them,'' he said.
Mr Bradbury accepted the plan would be controversial. ''When you're talking about balancing the need for security agencies to have access to this information, with the need to protect the privacy interests of individuals, it's an incredibly difficult balancing act.'' More than 90 per cent of almost 9000 people who responded to a Fairfax readers poll yesterday voiced their opposition to mandatory data retention.