Committee calls for metadata definition in law

A POWERFUL parliamentary committee has urged the Abbott government to include the full definition of "metadata" in law, rejecting the government's argument it should be defined under regulation.

The report of parliament's Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security follows an inquiry into the laws, which would mean Australians' data would be held for two years by telecos. While the bipartisan committee recommended passing the bill, it has urged 38 changes be made including making the specific set of "metadata" defined under law, rather than regulation.

The issue was a sticking point during the inquiry, with intelligence agencies and the Attorney-General's Department arguing it was better to keep it in regulations to remain "flexible".

But the committee rejected that argument, instead opting for that part of the bill to be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny during debate.

Government committee members had questioned the need for enshrining the definition in law, while Labor's shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus argued for the change.

The committee also urged the full list of agencies able to access metadata be listed in the laws, and extra oversight of agencies when trying to get journalists' data, by the Commonwealth Ombudsman and others.

It also recommended the government pay part of the up-front costs the telecom industry will face in setting up systems to retain data.

The laws are expected to be debated in parliament in coming weeks.