On Wednesday, Mr Abbott said authorities would be able to see what internet sites people were viewing.
"It is not what you're doing on the internet, it's the sites you're visiting," he told Channel Nine.
"It's not the content, it's just where you have been, so to speak."
But later Mr Abbott said the metadata to be collected would not include people's browsing history.
"We are not seeking content, we are seeking metadata," he said.
He used a metaphor to explain that "metadata is the material on the front of the envelope, and the contents of the letter will remain private".
- For web browsing, "content" is anything user generated, eg: typing in a URL, clicking through to links or a Google search.
- "Metadata" is information the system automatically puts in around the user-generated content, eg: IP addresses, number of visits to a site and length of time on a page.
- An IP address viewed in the metadata would show a person visited a certain website, but would not show what specific pages they visited there, if they wrote anything there or viewed videos.
- Currently, authorities can request access to metadata from telcos/ISPs, but they require a warrant for access to "content".
Read the full explanation
"All we want is for the telecommunications companies to continue to keep the person sending the information, the person to whom the information is being sent, the time it was sent and the place it was sent from," he added.
The Prime Minister's office later clarified that web-browsing history is considered content, not metadata, and authorities need a warrant to access it.
Metadata would also include the basic information about a phone call, such as the caller's location and the number they call. It does not include the content of the telephone conversation.
Federal Cabinet has given "in-principle" approval for new laws to require companies to keep the information for a certain amount of time, but the detail is unlikely to be known until the legislation is finalised later this year.
Many companies currently keep metadata, but it is understood the federal laws will mandate the information be retained longer.
But Attorney-General George Brandis, who is working on the draft laws, says he wants to make sure content is not included.
"We want to maintain the sharp distinction between metadata and content," he told Sky TV.
"Sometimes that distinction is blurred and that's why we are developing protocols to try and ensure the integrity of that distinction is maintained."
Brandis pressed to explain difference between metadata and contentThe Attorney-General was pressed to explain that distinction, especially in terms of internet use.
"What the security agencies want to be retained is the electronic address of the website that the web user is visiting - it tells you the address of the website," he said.
"When you visit a website people browse from one thing to the next and that browsing history won't be retained and there won't be any capacity to access that."
He added that, while this was "at its heart a counter-terrorism measure", the move would also boost the general crime-fighting ability of authorities.
"The fact is that access to metadata is an extremely useful criminal investigative tool," he said.
"When Jill Meagher was murdered in Victoria a little while ago it was access to metadata that assisted Victorian police in tracking down her killer - with a warrant.
"I've discussed this matter with my counterpart in the United Kingdom who tells me this is also used to track down paedophile rings."
Former federal police officer turned academic Nigel Phair says retaining metadata is a powerful tool on its own, without access to the "content".
"In many instances for law enforcement and national security organisations that metadata is more important and more valuable than the content itself," he said.
But Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson says the proposed changes are a threat to privacy.
"I dismiss the idea that metadata is just an irrelevant part of the discussion so long as it doesn't relate to content," he said.
Liberal frontbencher Stuart Robert says he has no problem with people's web-browsing history being stored.
"Not at all, keeping in mind Google already stores your browsing history as it is," he said.
Government needs to clarify definition of metadata: iiNetTelcos have resisted the proposed security law changes, with Australia's second-biggest broadband provider, iiNet, saying a data retention system would cost it alone around $100 million.
The company's chief regulatory officer, Steve Dalby, told ABC's PM program last month that what is missing from the debate is the Government's definition of metadata.
"[What's missing is] some specifics about what is going to be retained," he said.
"When we talk about data retention, it can be everything from a very small amount to a mind-boggling amount of data that is generated when people use telecommunications services - whether that's telephony, which is on the low side, or it's the internet, which generates massive amounts of metadata."
Mr Dalby says iiNet received "confusing information" from the Government.
"We have a briefing paper from the Attorney-General's Department that goes back a few years that is very broad, and talks about a great range of metadata that should be collected and stored for up to two years," he said
"On the other hand, we've got comments from the Attorney-General himself that talk about telephone companies collecting routine metadata for the telephone billing purposes.
"We've got something in the middle of that which talks about collecting all the internet metadata, but somehow having the content stripped out of that. Metadata contains content.
"You know, we are confused. We need some clarity."
Mr Dalby says telcos have received feedback that the Government will not cover the cost of data retention.
"What the Government plans to do is to have the ISPs foot the bill for the collection, the storage, the safekeeping of that data and then when a law enforcement officer requires a search for some specific item then they will pay, I think, something like $25 a pop," he said.
Laws to crack down on home-grown terrorismOther laws to crack down on home-grown terrorism will come before Parliament when it resumes later this month.
The Terrorism Foreign Fighter Bill will make it an offence to travel to certain locations the Government deems to be of "terrorist activity" unless the person can prove it was for humanitarian or family reasons.
The Government will also seek to broaden the laws to cover the prohibition of 'terrorism', rather than an individual act of terrorism, and make it an offence to promote or encourage terrorism.
Australia's spies are welcoming the Government's push to introduce tough new laws to tackle home-grown terrorists, but civil liberty groups say the likelihood of attacks is being exaggerated.
Barrister and spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Greg Barns, says the most concerning thing about the new bill is the attempt to lower the standard of proof for certain offences committed overseas.
"It's a gross undermining of a fundamental right that everyone has in the criminal justice system," he told ABC's The World Today program.
"And particularly so when one considers that the penalties, when found guilty of terrorism offences, effectively are from five years up to life.
"What you're going to find here, if you lower the standard of proof, you will get innocent people who will go to jail."
abc.net.au 7 Aug 2014
Another lie / false information / propaganda told by Abbott.
Internet browsing history IS part of 'metadata' and it WILL be stored.
It's all part of the police state policy of the new age prison called Australia, where people are the 'real' enemy, where 'terrorism' is the excuse.
It's now official that 'mass surveillance' has been implemented.