Digital Privacy: Australia's New Data Retention Scheme Begins

13/10/2015 7:01 AM AEDT | Updated July 15, 2016 12:50
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CANBERRA -- Not everyone is ready to take part, but the digital privacy of all Australians will be subject from Tuesday to a new multi-million dollar data retention regime.

As part of national security measures passed earlier this year, the Federal Government is compelling telecommunications companies and internet service providers to keep consistent and reliable data on their customers for two years.

In a considerable expansion of an ad hoc system already in place, criminal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, such as ASIO and the AFP, will be able to quickly self-authorise access to data stored as part of the data retention regime.

“We are all caught up in it,” Greens Senator Scott Ludlam told The Huffington Post Australia. “We are implicated in it if we’re using telecommunications networks then we are all automatically caught up in it.”

“It is 'untargeted' by definition.”

The government and intelligence and laws enforcement agencies deny a mass surveillance exercise is now in place. There have been calls for such a metadata retention scheme for years.

A spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis is adamant law enforcement and intelligence agencies need these new powers.

“Metadata is the basic building block in nearly every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and organised and major crime investigation,” he said.

“It is also essential for child abuse and child pornography offences that are frequently carried out online.”

The Government estimates it will cost around $300 million, but critics expect that to blow out.

The Chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, Dan Tehan told HuffPost Australia that vital information has been lost.

“The ability of our national security and law enforcement agencies to keep the public safe was being degraded,” he said.

“The Bill does not in any way provide for agencies to access any content of a communication, except under warrant.”

However, the list of law enforcement and intelligence agencies allowed to use the data without a warrant has been described by Ludlam as a “moving target”.

“The narrowed the range of agencies, but they left the door open for new ones to be added,” Ludlam said.

“Border Force was already added outside the processes described in the bill. There are now calls for the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) to be added.”

In fact, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Law Enforcement last month recommended that the ATO be listed as a 'criminal law-enforcement agency”, which would allow it to access data without a warrant.

“It won’t surprise me at all to see Centrelink in the queue, “Ludlam said.

Peak body Internet Australia has warned that hundreds of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not ready for the new scheme.

“Ludicrous as it might seem, nobody can tell us how many ISPs there are," Laurie Patton from Internet Australia told HuffPost Australia.

“The suggestions are somewhere between 250 and 500. The legislation is so complicated, nobody is certain about what is required. Nobody has any idea.”

But, Tehan insists the Government is not giving ISPs the hurry-up.

“There is an implementation time-frame, which has been designed to give smaller communications providers time to implement the new regime," he said.

The spokesman for the Attorney-General said full compliance is expected to be achieved by April 2017 and says more than $130 million has been committed by the Government to contribute to the upfront capital costs of the scheme.

Internet Australia’s CEO believes the regime is flawed and need to be reviewed, sooner rather than later.

“No-one has been able to demonstrate that this works,” Patton said.

“Whether you are talking the Lindt Café hostage drama, whether you are talking about Charlie Hebdo, you are talking about the soldier who was hacked to death in the UK, in all those cases they knew who those people were.”

He’s adamant it is easy to get around.

“The very people that they are trying to target are the ones that most easily understand how to get around it, “he said.

“There are so many ways to get around this. The simplest way to use Gmail, as it is not covered.”

Ludlam harks back to Malcolm Turnbull’s time as Communications Minister, when he advised people who did not want to legally leave a metadata footprint to use third party instant messaging services rather than text messages.

“I use an app called Signal ‘cause it uses quite a securely encrypted protocol,” Ludlam revealed.

The now Prime Minister continues to use his own email server, outside the classified parliamentary system, and is a renowned user of secret and secure messaging services, like Wickr.

Turnbull on Mondayaddressed how Australia is dealing with terrorism as he gave a tribute to Sydney Police accountant Curtis Cheng who was shot by a 15-year-old boy.

“We should never give fanatics the satisfaction of changing the way we live or the way we express ourselves,” Turnbull told Parliament.

“We uphold the fundamental values of our open, liberal democracy.

“Australians can have confidence in our democratic system of Government, and the rule of law and we will continue to respond to these threats as the fair, just and peace loving people we.”

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