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.