Far from taking the ‘cold shower’ that the Attorney-General prescribed last week, the chorus of criticism of her Department’s proposal for blanket retention of Internet data for up to two years has grown louder and gained significant new political traction.
Earlier this week, at an apparently rowdy Coalition party room meeting, a number of Liberal Party backbenchers spoke out against the proposal, leading the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott to ‘vow to pressure’ [paywalled] Roxon to justify the proposal.
The Coalition now joins the Greens and nearly 200 other political, community and commercial interests that have expressed their opposition to the data retention proposal. In addition to EFA, the Australian Privacy Foundation [PDF], GetUp! and other civil liberties groups, other notable opponents include the Internet Society of Australia [PDF], the Institute of Public Affairs [PDF], the Pirate Party of Australia, Victoria’s Privacy Commissioner, major ISPs including iiNet [PDF] and the Internet Industry Association, whose “concerns about a blanket data retention regime are longstanding and have been consistently expressed to successive governments since 1999.”
Meanwhile the Attorney-General has been busy making a video attacking GetUp! and writing a letter to the Herald Sun that actually spells out more detail about the proposal than is contained in her Department’s 61-page Discussion Paper [PDF]. She has also made some very questionable statements about the proposals contained within that paper, which we believe warrant some examination.
In her response to GetUp!, and her letter to the Herald Sun, Roxon complains that the scope of the data to be retained has been broadened beyond what is proposed. She points out in both pieces that the proposal is only for the retention of ‘metadata’. This is an interesting criticism given that the only mentions within the Discussion Paper of the term ‘data retention’ are the following:
On page 10, and repeated on page 13:
“tailored data retention periods for up to 2 years for parts of a data set, with specific timeframes taking into account agency priorities, and privacy and cost impacts.
On page 58, Glossary of Key Terms:
“Data retention: The storage of telecommunications data for prescribed periods of time.”
“Data set: The specific set of data that would be required to be retained under a data retention regime.”
The word ‘metadata’ does not appear once in the document.
The Attorney-General seems very concerned about the potential for misinterpretation of the proposals in question, and in concluding her video response to GetUp!, she said, “I understand there is a great deal of interest in these reforms. But, I also think it’s very important that people have the right facts. And that’s why I’ve made this video today.”
Perhaps rather than a four-minute video and a letter to the editor some weeks after public submissions have closed, it would therefore have been a much more effective strategy to have included actual detail about the proposals in the Discussion Paper itself?
As EFA pointed out in our submission (page 5), experience from the European Union has shown that segregating content from metadata in internet communications is inherently problematic and can lead to over-retention, so we would argue that this is a dubious distinction to make in any case.
The Attorney-General also took GetUp! to task on the question of creating a criminal offence for failing to provide passwords to law enforcement, to provide access to encrypted data. The Discussion Paper says this:
On page 10, repeated on page 13:
“Establishing an offence for failure to assist in the decryption of communications.”
The only effective way in which a person could ‘fail to assist in the decryption of communications’ would be to refuse to provide the private key (a form of password), yet the Attorney-General has stated that ““There is also no proposal to enforce people to give up passwords.” We can only conclude from this that the Attorney-General has a very limited understanding of encryption technology.
Most alarmingly, the Attorney-General stated on ABC 7.30 on 13th September that, “we don't want it to be a free-for-all for governments or police to be able to trawl through everything people are doing on the internet. And I think people have misunderstood the proposal. It's very much a targeted approach to make sure that we don't lose important information for investigations.”
We understand the proposal only too well. It would involve capturing data from every internet user in Australia, and would therefore create the ability for government and police to trawl through records of everyone’s activity on the internet. It is therefore the exact opposite of a ‘targeted approach’. This strikes us as a classic case of Orwellian doublespeak.
EFA has been busy engaging with the media to ensure that our opposition to the data retention and other proposals in the National Security Inquiry discussion paper are publicised.
Among others, we have appeared on:
- ABC TV Lateline on Monday 3rd September
- Mornings with Linda Mottrom on ABC Sydney Radio 702AM on Tuesday 4th September
- 3RRR's Byte Into It programme on Wednesday 5th September
Image above Copyright Commonwealth of Australia, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence.