This week the Australian parliament has voted to cement the Government’s proposed two-year data retention scheme into law.
The laws will force telecommunications providers to keep records of phone and internet use for two years and allow security agencies to access the records.
The metadata list will include, among other things:
- names, addresses, birthdates, financial and billing information of internet and phone account holders;
- traffic data such as numbers called and texted, as well as times and dates of communications;
- when and where online communications services start and end;
- a user’s IP address;
- type and location of communication equipment; and
- upload and download volumes
It does not appear to include website browsing – yet.
Why is the government doing this?
The Australian Liberal Party who are the prime protagonists in this saga claim it is to prevent terrorism and increase national security. While terrorism is a terrifying scourge on humanity is there any evidence data retention helps prevent crime?
Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has told Guardian Australia that there’s “no good evidence” that data retention aids national security authorities in preventing terror attacks.
“Having a massive database of records is unlikely to assist [law enforcement]. There is some argument that it does the opposite. There’s so many false leads that the FBI has stopped doing its traditional investigative work,” Wizner said.
Additionally Australia already has systems in place to help catch potential terrorists and criminals. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act specifies the circumstances in which interception of customer communications is lawful and when it is permitted for telecommunications companies to disclose communications data.
So why does the Australian Government want to retain data and why for two years?
Perhaps it has something to-do with how create vast archives of data about what we have done and where we have been. People will definitely want that.
George Brandis announced this week a plan to force ISPS to block certain websites.
We already know that the MPAA has hired lobbyists and directly targeted elected officials and search engines for a perceived complacency towards internet piracy.
Some of the biggest political donations to Australian politicians are from Media and Rupert Murdochs News Corp which in particular recently has picked bones with Google. Google responded on their blog in hilarious fashion.
Facebook has also been harvesting data years and has made them one of the richest corporations in the world; c’mon you didn’t think it was because of the service?
Not doing anything wrong, nothing to hide?
Get rid of the blinds in your windows, and don’t close that toilet door at the public toilet – What are you hiding?
Are you happy for everyone to know where you are all the time, who your friends are, with whom you’re having a relationship, everyone you call, whether you have a medical or financial problem?
Why are journalists so upset?
Data retention significantly increases the chances that governments will be able to track down whistleblowers or sources for news stories. We already know that the Australian Federal Police have investigated journalists who have revealed public interest stories about the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, in order to track down their sources. The AFP has admitted that it obtains journalists’ metadata to do this, although it insists it is “rare”
What can you do?
If you’re a criminal, or a terrorist, and government agencies want to spy on you, there’s not much you can do to stop them – thankfully.
As for the rest of us who value privacy –
1.) Use offshore services. Services like Gmail aren’t subject to Australian data retention laws. There are a growing number of encrypted messaging apps that you can download (which even politicians are now using). But go check the reviews of apps before you pick one —quite a few much-hyped services aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
2. Use a VPN. There are lots of sites that now assess the merits of different Virtual Private Network providers in terms of security and privacy (in particular, whether they log what information is flowing through them), price and customer service. While there are free VPNs out there, $40-50 a year will get you a high-quality, fast VPN that will encrypt and anonymise your web traffic so that even your ISP doesn’t know what sites you’re visiting, and those sites only record the IP address of the VPN server you’re using, not your home address. And you can even install them on your smartphone.
VPNs are also great for getting around online Geoblocks and ISP forced website blocks.