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Australian govt backs away from web snooping plan

The Australian government is backing away from plans to snoop on individual users' surfing habits in the run-up to the country's forthcoming general election.

The administration had come under fire after it censored 90 per cent of a document released a under freedom of information request, which detailed discussions mandarins held with Australian ISPs over plans to force them to store individual users' browsing histories.

Under the controversial proposals, which were inspired by European data retention rules, information would be collected and stored regardless of whether there was any suspicion of wrongdoing.

Yesterday, Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland (pictured) attempted to distance himself from the controversy.

"To be frank, I haven't seen the document," he said. "I literally haven't seen the document. I don't know the content and I'm not in a position to judge whether those redactions are or are not appropriate. I haven't been a party to the negotiations."

However, a report in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper today insists that the censored document passed through McClelland's office before being released to the public.

McClelland attempted to allay fears that the Australian government planned to implement a widescale snooping regime.

"The discussions have focused, again, not on intruding into someone's privacy as to the content. They have focused on the times of the communications and who the communications were between," he said. "Those discussions have occurred as a result of my department seeking the views of providers, and ultimately we will seek the view of consumers."

But with an election due on 21 August, called after former deputy Labour leader Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as prime minister, McClelland seemed keen to back away from the contentious proposals.

"It's not something the government is driving as an issue," he said. "It's an issue that the department is consulting on, partly as a result of representations from agencies, partly as a result of international trends.

"We haven't stood in the way of those negotiations or those discussions. We think they're appropriate. But we're not driving an agenda."