Data retention legislation aimed at mass surveillance of the Australian people

Opposition against the proposed data retention legislation is growing by the hour. This has nothing to do with the support that most people are prepared to give to assist the fight against terrorism; instead it has become a partisan political issue rather than a security one, with little regard for transparency and effectiveness of the proposal. The government is using the terrorist fear campaign to blackmail its political opponents to vote in favour of the legislation.

But it looks like it is backfiring.

And the government’s refusal to share its estimate of just how much its data retention laws will cost the industry is only further fuelling opposition to the bill.

The fact that most, if not all, people in the ICT industry now have very serious concerns about the lack of transparency and the rushed way the government is pushing this legislation through is creating a very negative feeling about the legislation. Fortunately this leads to a uncoupling of the fear campaign and the actual proposal, and will therefore give those opposing the legislation in Parliament, at a minimum, a much better political platform to delay the legislation and allow for a more balanced approach, similar to policies being implemented by our allies in the fight against terrorism.

It looks as though the only people backing the bill are the security agencies – they will gain more power and more funding to carry out a mass surveillance campaign against the entire Australian population.

The legislation as it stands at the moment will do the Australian people more harm than good.

While the Lindt Cafe siege and the events in Paris are being used in the fear-mongering campaign, in both these events the terrorists involved were well-known to the police, a clear indication that data retention laws would have helped little, if at all.

The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) has issued an excellent summary of the points of criticism of the data retention bill:

  • The proposal is much, much more than its proponents are pretending.
  • The proposal is not for targeted personal surveillance, but for mass surveillance.
  • The justification that has been offered is not evidence, just anecdotes.
  • The counter-evidence from multiple countries shows that data retention does not help with counter-terrorism or with other forms of serious crime.
  • Anyone with technical understanding can circumvent the law and avoid being tracked.
  • The proponents are ignoring the counter-evidence and hoping people won’t notice.
  • An effective weapon already exists in the form of preservation orders.
  • The proposals would have serious negative impacts on normal people.
  • The proposals do not include anything resembling proper safeguards.
  • The limited safeguards that the proposal contains are not subject to effective controls.
  • In other countries, such proposals are struck down by the highest-level courts, but that can’t happen in Australia because we lack human rights protections.
  • The parliament must apply as much care to the evidence before it as the High Court would if it had the opportunity to do so.

As we have seen in the past, criminals can get into systems as ‘secure’ as the Pentagon. Having all of the data stored centrally in one spot creates an ideal target, allowing criminals to get all their information from one single point.

The legislation will also allow terrorists and criminals to bypass the whole proposed security system by simply using gmail and hotmail email addresses.

And it is important to put these security issues into perspective. While the terrorist crimes are hideous, Australia is still a very safe country. Far more people get killed in car accidents, at work and domestic accidents, through violence against women and children, criminal killings and so on. As human beings we are pretty good at managing these situations without massive regulations trying to prevent them from happening. We are prepared to take a balanced and measured approach, and we should do the same in relation to terrorism.

We prefer regulatory and legislative solutions that are a balance between risk, on the one hand, and privacy, personal freedom and lifestyle on the other.

Paul Budde

See also: Australia – Digital Economy – Sector and Industry Transformations

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