Mandatory Data Retention and You
You may have heard of the Government’s initiative to monitor and collect data in order to address perceived threats to national security. Put simply, all of Australia’s ISPs are now required to store customer’s metadata for a minimum of two years, under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015.
This metadata will include account names, addresses and other details; the location from where communications take place (WI-FI hotspots, cell towers etc.); the date, time and duration of communications and who the recipient of communications is. While originally, this initiative was solely designed to be used for terrorist related activity, PM Tony Abbott recently declared that the information can now be used by regular law enforcement and security personnel, despite requests for amendments to protect public privacy by minority Greens party Senator Scott Ludlam and independent Senators Nick Xenophon, David Leyonhjelm and Dio Wang.
Obviously, this bill has caused quite a bit of concern, but thankfully, we have the
Greens and Labor Party doing their best to protect the populace from mass surveillance and hopefully, these laws will be reversed if Labor takes the seat at the next election. Until then, here is some information that will help you understand the bill:
What is Metadata?
Whenever you use any form of technology – from computers to tablets, smart phones and watches, game consoles, in-car technology and even digital exercise-monitoring technology and digital photo frames – information is generated and this is called metadata. This metadata contains personal information, such as:
- The content associated with the websites you visit
- Details of when you visit internet pages, as well as how long you spend on them and what you do while you’re there
- The content of social media posts you make, as well as forum posts and other online comments
- Details of the people and companies you communicate with
- Cookies and cached websites
- User data and login information
- Your IP address (your internet service provider details)
- Location information showing where you were when you used the internet
- Device hardware information, such as operating system and browser used
- Date, time and duration of calls made to other people
Despite what many people believe (or what we’re led to believe by the Government), this information DOES contain quite a bit of personal content – particularly from services like social media and websites.
Should I be worried?
The data that is collected can be extremely revealing to the person analysing it. With information on your website visits, who you associate with and where you are when you use technology, they can tell quite a lot about you, such as your political views, religion, whether you have any medical conditions, what circles you associate with and who your family are.
Sure, if you’re not doing anything illegal, you might believe that you have nothing to worry about; however, many, many law-abiding citizens do feel violated by this data collection and so they should! Because the collected information is so private and revealing, t’s almost akin to somebody collecting naked pictures of you over a certain period of time, without your permission and without the need for a warrant. If you’re ok with that, you have a thicker skin than most.
Will It Work To Catch Criminals?
Sure, this costly and unnecessary strategy might catch a few criminals that – until now – have managed to avoid detection, but there are already existing strategies to catch criminals. Further, the criminals themselves aren’t going to be stupid enough to plot their dastardly deeds online if they know they are under surveillance – they will discover other covert methods of committing crime.
This bill is considered disproportionate and unnecessary by criminologists and others who know what they are talking about. In fact, the collection of this data might actually open us up to more risk, as hackers would see the database of user information as a veritable gold mine!
What Can I Do?
Unfortunately, at this point, all we can really do is grin and bear it, or sign a petition or two – such as this one by Aussie activist group, GetUp! – and try to bring the issue to the attention of others.