January 20, 2016metadata data retention privacy online rights
The following is a letter I have sent to several Labor MPs after a recent FOI request revealed that a further 61 local, state and federal agencies and government bodies have applied for access to metadata under the data retention scheme.
How is it possible that a scheme designed to combat terrorism and serious crime could attract applications from the majority of these bodies?
I am writing to you because I know you have expressed a keen interest in the controversial data retention proposal which unfortunately passed in parliament with bipartisan support last year.
I also know that Labor implemented some strict amendments to the bill, some of which have been enacted, some of which have not.
I note that the majority, if all not all ISPs are yet to start collecting metadata which was meant to occur in October last year. This is surprising as dialogue from Tony Abbott, Bill Shorten, George Brandis, Mark Dreyfus and several other MPs at the time suggested that by not having it in place, Australians were at real risk of a terrorist attack or serious crime. This argument was used as a very big justification of passing it at the time. Our Prime Minister went on record saying:
“there would be an explosion of unsolved crime if the new data retention laws don't pass Parliament.”
There was similar dialogue form both sides of parliament and senior management of the AFP and ASIO. It is now mid January, yet ISPs haven't even begun their state sponsored blanket surveillance. It is suggested it could take years to properly start with most ISPs only just now having 'implementation plans' assessed and approved pending what most industry experts say is inadequate funding arrangements by the government to implement.
Where is the evidence of this so called "explosion of unsolved crime"?
Recently an FOI request was made for a list of agencies and bodies who had applied for access to data retention. Making metadata available under the scheme gives the applicant unfettered access to every Australian's telecommunications data without the need for a warrant. It is a massive impetuous on a person's privacy and gives said agencies great power. With this access comes great responsibility. I am concerned that agencies beyond the existing 21 are not equipped to or have no business accessing metadata. There are now a further 61 agencies who have applied for access to data retention metadata. This is in conjunction with several that have already been added since the bill passed.
I am concerned that this influx of applications creates a real or perceived situation where data retention has morphed into something it was promised not to be. Do these agencies know something the public doesn't? Was it sold as one thing to citizens like me and government agencies as something else? When attempting to sell the legislation to the public, both parties as well as ASIO and AFP went on the record stressing that it was ONLY necessary to fight terrorism and the most serious of crime.
Articles here and here. More concerning is this article on Delimiter where Mark Dreyfus refuses to comment on the topic.
Does Labor support all these agencies getting access to data retention? Does it consider all these agencies to be "law enforcement", their primary role to fight terrorism and serious crime? Was data retention designed to limit access to a small number of agencies (21 at the time the bill was passed) such as intelligence and defense agencies and police departments? Has it changed since then to cover all levels of government and all types of agencies, bodies and GFO's?
Does Labor have faith that all these agencies and others like them who will undoubtedly apply for access, have the necessary controls, governance and structures in place to correctly handle, process and dispose of unnecessary metadata? What sort of robust safeguards do each of them have in terms of data integrity and security? Who conducts audits of this? Who is responsible if there is a breach? Is there any accountability? As an innocent citizen, am I given access to an explanation or compensation if my data is misused, stolen or leaked?
Can you guarantee that the Australian public can trust all these agencies with not just their own most intimate data, but that of their partners, children and family?
Lack of comment by Mark Dreyfus has me very concerned that yet again Labor is going to roll over on this topic because it is scared to challenge the LNP on national security, lest it look weak. Abbott is gone now, along with his common occurrence 27 flag press conferences. It's time some sanity prevailed here and some past wrongs be righted.
This is an opportunity for Labor to stand up and say enough is enough and stop every Tom, Dick and Harry government body getting access to our private information. If these get the green tick of approval then an expectation of privacy as we know it will cease to exist. George Brandis says this is OK and a current day reality, however I disagree.
Was data retention truly ever just about terrorism and serious crime? I have my doubts….