It recently came to light (thanks to some good reporting) that the Government has been fishing around with ISPs for their support on a new and radical data retention policy. This would legally oblige telcos to retain large amounts of data about their customers' communications activities in case law enforcement needed them at some point in the future.

We know this because some in the industry have spoken out, quietly, about the meetings. The Government, it would seem, would prefer to conduct them in complete and total secrecy.

Ben Grubb at the Sydney Morning Herald today shared some documents he obtained under Freedom of Information about the briefings between the Attorney-General's department and the industry. The screenshot below is indicative of the rest of the document - besides the page numbers, nothing substantive is left uncensored. Even the glossary of terms is heavily elided. One can only imagine the officer responsible for the editing must have made a few trips to the stationery cupboard for a fresh texta.

Based on previous reporting, we know that the idea that the ISPs would be forced to log even the actual web browsing history of their customers has been canvassed. Basically, if it's logged (or could be logged), the A-G wants it saved.

Apart from the fact that it treats everybody like a possible criminal, there are several concerns with this. Firstly, the privacy implications are enormous. Anybody would have natural concerns about how much data about their personal communications was being stored. Managing all this data would create a lot of work and expense for ISPs, which disadvantage smaller players and would have to be passed on to consumers. And there mere fact that large databases of personal data are being stored at every ISP makes data security a big issue. The consequences of any data breach would be magnified.

Public consultation is therefore paramount. The more sensitive the data being retained, the more the public needs to be informed about the process. The onus is on the Government to explain why they need this data, and why the process has to be a secret one. Otherwise, we must assume the worst - that they want everything, and will be aggressive about accessing it, too.

The proposal is alarming enough, but, again, the secrecy of the process is just as worrying. If you aren't a criminal, you should have nothing to hide, the Government might argue. We might ask the same question. If you're not doing anything we should be concerned about, why so much secrecy?

The document can be viewed here along with the decision here.

27 comments

  1. Where's the WikiLeaked copy of this document?

    Comment by Robin Darroch on 23 July 2010 at 11:23 pm
  2. What we need is widespread adoption of SSL. The fact that ISPs can even see browsing history is ridiculous.

    Comment by James on 23 July 2010 at 11:28 pm
  3. Somebody somewhere has access to this document. They have a moral duty to ensure is it made available to the public (via Wikileaks or any other outlet ) ASAP!

    Comment by Dr Parnssus on 23 July 2010 at 11:43 pm
  4. I am sure if it goes on wikileaks conroy will tell us if we read it we will be going to prison like he did with the ACMA leak.

    Come on Wikileaks! Save our society!

    Comment by Edmond Dantez on 24 July 2010 at 12:08 am
  5. Matters that erode personal privacy should be be publicly debated from start to finish. Censoring the document in this manner was an act of cowardice.

    Comment by Simon on 24 July 2010 at 12:30 am
  6. So much for their declaration of an open government.

    Comment by Akira Doe on 24 July 2010 at 1:59 am
  7. It should be noted that the governor-general may or may not represent the interests of the government. It's the governor general... Queen... that's requiring these measures, not the government as such, and as such, there's not really much that can be debated. It's pretty much what our Queen wants.

    Comment by Tim Tim on 24 July 2010 at 3:53 am
    • ...the governor general is a figure head...the queen isn't a poitician...are you for real?

      Comment by jim jim on 25 March 2011 at 1:10 am
  8. Yeah someone should FOI ISPs to find out how much info they're keeping about us now. Oh - that's right you can't FOI private industry......I'm guessing EFA will cover this as well as the recent Google Privacy Act breach in their upcoming submission to the privacy enquiry.

    Comment by Anonymous on 24 July 2010 at 4:42 am
  9. How can releasing a heavily censored document under FOI be classed as FOI?

    It's about time the politicians and Government bureaucrats were taken down a peg or 2.

    As for what the Queen wants.
    Piff, tosh!

    Comment by Chris on 24 July 2010 at 5:52 am
  10. @Tim Tim

    I think you may have confused the Attorney General with the Governor General, maybe?

    Comment by Womp on 24 July 2010 at 6:53 am
  11. Rumours emerging from Canberra that this is a part of Julia Gillard's cunning plan NOT to get elected ....

    Comment by Chrys Stevenson on 24 July 2010 at 8:16 am
  12. the govoner general doesnt propose legilation the govt does put the blame where it belongs they will blame terrorism and child porn to justify this so any opposition must come from them

    Comment by geoff on 24 July 2010 at 8:43 pm
  13. It's up to the users of the internet to decide for themselves what they want to read or input onto any site within the law. I hate all this Big Brother/Nanny State proposed legislation. Hackers will find a way around this censorship and so the wheel keeps turning.

    Comment by fran on 24 July 2010 at 11:07 pm
  14. @Chris Public servants are required to work for the government. Bureaucrats, what ever their personal views, must implement the legal directions of the minister. While the proposed legislation is odious the fault lies with the government in general and Conroy in particular. I must say I am disappointed that Gillard hasn't stopped it though. Civil liberties seem to be out of fashion.

    Comment by Charles on 25 July 2010 at 6:52 am
  15. I take this very seriously, not only are we being treated like sheep but clearly our Government is up to no good. If we were living in a democratic free society there would be no need to hide the truth from us. What use is the freedom of information act if no information is forthcoming? I object to my Government spying on me, they have no right to do this. I suspect it's not about child pornography, I believe it's far more sinister than that. The Australian Government has forgotten it's job is to serve the public.

    Comment by Annie on 25 July 2010 at 6:55 am
  16. Is there any way we can advertize this (and the Net filter) to the general public? We're all in agreement: it's others we need to alert.

    If possible, can we launch a basic ad or newspaper article where we simply compare this to:

    • someone listening to every phone call we make
    • someone opening every letter we get
    • someone coming into our home and telling us what we can read

    and give the viewer/reader something practical they can do to protest?

    Comment by Clytie Siddall on 25 July 2010 at 9:19 am
  17. FOI = F**k Off Idiot.

    Comment by thomas vesely on 25 July 2010 at 1:14 pm
  18. Waiting for someone to leak this document so I can print it onto T shirts and distribute

    Comment by Ryan on 26 July 2010 at 10:49 pm
  19. ryan perhaps print as is ??

    Comment by thomas vesely on 26 July 2010 at 10:54 pm
  20. Yes, with the caption "Government transparency". :)

    Comment by Clytie Siddall on 27 July 2010 at 4:48 am
  21. As the Government always say “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide”.

    It must not have been this Government because they obviously value their privacy greatly, or should I just make the assumption that because they have something to hide they must have done something wrong?

    Comment by AJ on 28 July 2010 at 9:26 pm
  22. This is a particularly dubious policy. If I recall correctly, the spectre of logging browsing history or Internet usage was raised amongst earlier objections to the Internet filter/censorship. Conroy was eventually forced to say that the filter would not be used for that purpose or to spy on Internet users.

    Now they're bringing that same thing in via the Attorney-General's department to achieve the intended, highly controlled result. I think this government wants the Internet to exist in a state where "that which is not expressly permitted is forbidden."

    As for this fine example of bureaucratic censorship, it reminds me of "Yes, Minister" when Sir Arnold retired and took a position (QANGO) with Freedom of Information. Sir Arnold then promptly demonstrated how little information would be granted its freedom on his watch.

    Comment by Ben on 30 July 2010 at 12:37 am
  23. Present day we are facing the data lose problem of our computer. Our company introduces data recovery software to backup all lost files and folder form any type of digital media of memory.

    Comment by recovery data on 31 July 2010 at 6:36 am
  24. Going by this article SSL is flawed.

    Follow link http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/03/26/1334254/Go...

    Comment by John Doe on 26 August 2010 at 5:45 pm
  25. I gather that this is being pushed by the powers that be. Or is part of some trade agreement policy requirement. Being that we are close to asia and the majority of us are close to countries that have some hardline muslim factions. This would not surprise me. It's a shame that our privacy is eroded as a result of this.

    Comment by John on 26 August 2010 at 5:54 pm
  26. Interesting....every time I clicked 'here' at the end of the story I got a message saying "internet not working"....so haven't seen the document & decision

    Comment by Fran Y on 26 August 2010 at 7:24 pm