George Brandis struggled to explain metadata on live TV. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
George Brandis' attempts to describe metadata in an interview have been called "excruciating" and "the most embarrassing interview you'll ever be likely to see".
On Wednesday afternoon the Attorney-General struggled to explain the details of his government's controversial "data retention" policy live on Sky News.
The policy would force all telcos to keep logs on what their customers do on the phone and online for up to two years, so law enforcement agencies could access the information without a warrant when investigating crime.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the policy would capture "the sites you’re visiting". But his office later clarified this was not the case and that this would require a warrant.
Now Senator Brandis has confused matters again, telling Sky News that web addresses would be captured by his proposal to strengthen the powers of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.
After repeated questions over whether the sites people visited would be captured, he conceded they would be, but confusingly contradicted himself by saying his policy wouldn’t extend to web surfing.
He then attempted to clarify this by saying that the sites people visited would be captured, but not the individual web pages a person navigated to within a site.
Twitter users immediately mocked the interview.
"What an absolutely glorious train wreck of an interview," wrote one.
"Brandis has no idea what he's talking about on data retention," said another.
"Complete car crash interview with Brandis and @David_Speers [on] @SkyNewsAust as he tries to explain metadata," said yet another.
Steve Dalby, the chief regulatory officer at iiNet, an internet provider that is against the government’s data retention proposal, called the interview "as clear as mud".
He's called on the government to release exactly what data they are after under the data retention proposal before it is legislated later this year.
The government has did not have the best day in selling the proposal on Wednesday, with contradictory statements and broken metaphors used to explain the issue.
When describing that "web addresses" would be captured, it's possible Senator Brands meant to say that the IP addresses of web servers people accessed would be stored.
When a web user visits Google, for instance, the IP address left behind as metadata is 220.127.116.11. When visiting Sky News, it's 18.104.22.168.
But if a law enforcement agency accessed this IP address metadata and put it into a web browser they would then be able to determine that the user went to Google or Sky.
Law enforcement or intelligence officials would also be able to determine the duration of time a user spent on the sites, the date they visited them, and the location of the device they visited the sites on. The same applies to many other sites, but not all.
Mr Dalby told Fairfax Media on Wednesday evening that storing IP addresses was very similar to storing web browsing history.
"[Law enforcement agencies] only have to type the damn IP address [into a web browser] and they'll get the website [you were looking at and] they'll get all the content on it," Mr Dalby said.
"It's just as invasive as standing with a video camera over my shoulder while I'm browsing and of course that’s what they want," Mr Dalby said.
Mr Abbott's recently appointed Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, is also against data retention, as are a number of other civil liberties groups.
"I don't support the idea of data retention at all but I do realise that there are ways that it can be more or less infringing on peoples' right to privacy," Mr Wilson told Fairfax.
Senator Brandis' interview is reminiscent of an interview Mr Abbott gave in opposition when attempting to describe the broadband policy he was trying to take to the 2010 election.
He said then he was "no Bill Gates" and "no tech head".