A Senate enquiry into online privacy continued with hearings at Parliament House on Friday, and both Google and the Attorney General's Department found themselves on the defensive. The Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts appear to be taking our privacy online seriously, and followed up on written submissions with some probing questions.

The heat was on Google who spoke to their own privacy credentials and issued another mea culpa over the Street View WiFi debacle. Explaining that Google aims for best practice but comply with local laws led to a bizarre exchange in which Labor Senator Cameron compared that to Nike's defence of sweat shop labour and Google Public Policy head Iarla Flynn explained that Google employees are treated very nicely, thank-you. Nevertheless, Greens senator Scott Ludlam opined that GMail's keyword scanning was creepy, a theme the hearings would return to later in the day.

The main spotlight, however, was on the Attorney General's push for a mandatory data retention scheme, which would force all Australian telcos and ISPs to keep logs of their customers' communications in case they were needed by law enforcement. It was described by critics as "mass surveillance", and the Privacy Commissioner sounded a skeptical note. (I testified on behalf of Electronic Frontiers Australia and also rang the alarm bells on this scheme.) When representatives of the AG and Federal Police appeared at the end of the day, they tried to defend it as merely the status quo. The committee were unimpressed, with Senator Ludlam taking them to task for planning the scheme in secret and failing to engage with civil society.

Senator Ludlam was obviously not convinced by the AG's explanations, tweeting after the session "I'm much, much more creeped out by #ozlog [the data retention scheme] than i was an hour ago." EFA shares this concern, in spades.

Finally, Senator Cameron, apparently still creeped out by GMail's advertising, asked the AGD to look into whether it might even be illegal. A lesson for the industry; people, including parliamentarians, take their privacy very seriously.

Read EFA's submission to the inquiry here. Others can be found at the inquiry's submission page.


  1. hmmmmmmmmmmmmm one can wonder

    Comment by Petra on 9 November 2010 at 06:12
  2. (a) The logical extension to this data gathering is personal profiling. The civil liberties association should be going ballistic about this encroachment on personal freedom. Profiling historically leads to false conclusions of marginalising and discrimination.
    (b) There are enough existing laws sufficent to enable monitoring and presecution by law enforcement of purported illegal activities. Why this need? If those laws need amendment then start there.
    (c) Location and access to this data service will be outsourced. The private enterprise it is outsourced to will analyse and profile private information for commercial gain once having priveliged and confidential access.

    Do they forget criminals minds are employed within the Governments and police organisations also? Draconian is an adequate description of this - welcome back to the paranoid police stae of 1940's. The incompetence of Government will open this up to criminal abuse in itself.

    Comment by ame on 26 November 2010 at 08:14