ATTORNEY-GENERAL Nicola Roxon appears to have swung her support behind a controversial plan to capture the online data of all Australians, despite only six weeks ago saying ''the case had yet to be made'' for the policy.
The data retention plan - which would force all Australian telcos and internet service providers to store the online data of all Australians for up to two years - is the most controversial element of a package of more than 40 proposed changes to national security legislation.
If passed, the proposals would be the most significant expansion of national security powers since the Howard-era reforms of the early 2000s.
In a speech to be delivered at the Security in Government conference in Canberra today, Ms Roxon will say that law enforcement agencies need the data retention policy in order to be able to effectively target criminals.
''Many investigations require law enforcement to build a picture of criminal activity over a period of time. Without data retention, this capability will be lost,'' she will say, in a draft of the speech provided to Fairfax Media yesterday.
But in an interview with Fairfax Media in mid July, Ms Roxon appeared to have a different view. ''I'm not yet convinced that the cost and the return - the cost both to industry and the [privacy] cost to individuals - that we've made the case for what it is that people use in a way that benefits our national security,'' she said.
''I think there is a genuine question to be tested, which is why it's such a big part of the proposal.''
Her apparent change of mind may be a result of conversations with the Australian Federal Police, who have long pushed for mandatory online data retention. Neil Gaughan heads the AFP's High Tech Crime Centre and is a vocal advocate for the policy.
''Without data retention laws I can guarantee you that the AFP won't be able to investigate groups such as Anonymous over data breaches because we won't be able to enforce the law,'' he told a cyber security conference recently.
But Andrew Lewman, the executive director of the Tor software project, which disguises a person's location when surfing the web, challenges that view. In July he told Fairfax Media data retention impedes the effectiveness of law enforcement.
''It sounds good and something sexy that politicians should get behind. However, it doesn't stop crime, it builds a massive dossier on everyone at millisecond resolution, and creates more work and challenges for law enforcement to catch actual criminals.
''The problem isn't too little data, the problem is there is already too much data.''
The proposals are being examined by the Parliamentary committee create to provide partial scrutiny of Australia's intelligence community.
The committee has thus far received almost 200 submissions from the agencies, members of the public as well as civil liberties and online rights groups.