As we reported on 5 August Prime Minister Tony Abbott along with Attorney-General George Brandis and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have outlined plans to introduce a controversial data retention bill later this year.
The law will force phone companies and Internet service providers to store non-content data, or metadata, for up to two years. The practice of storing metadata is a hot button issue after the US government faced strong criticism and condemnation worldwide for secretly storing the data of millions of users.
The practice, through a program managed by the US National Security Agency (NSA), was exposed after whistleblower Ed Snowden released confidential documents detailing the operation. This new legislation will mean all Australians would have metadata related to their web browsing and phone calls stored, where it could be accessed by law enforcement agencies.
"Such a mandatory data retention scheme would represent a massive invasion of the privacy of all Australians as well as a subversion of the presumption of innocence," the EFA, which is in its 20th year this year, said in a statement.
"It would also involve substantial implementation and compliance costs that will inevitably lead to increased mobile phone and internet access costs for all Australians, as well has hampering competition in these important industry sectors.
"The massive databases that would be created by such a scheme would contain highly sensitive information and would be susceptible to being compromised in a number of ways, resulting in genuine risks to the safety of many Australians.
"Such a scheme is also unnecessary. Australia’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies already have broad powers to direct communications providers to retain information (and content) on persons of interest, without needing to involve the rest of society.
Attorney-General Brandis was in a "car crash" interview last week, in which he flip-flopped on the definition of metadata and what it actually is in comments iiNet Regulatory Officer Steve Dalby described as "clear as mud."
iTWire's Graeme Philipson described the proposed laws as "pathetic" in an opinion piece last week.
"Not to put too fine a point on it, the Government’s performance on data retention is pathetic," he wrote. "Individually and collectively, the impression is one of gross incompetence and blatant deceit. That’s the impression, because that’s what it is."
EFA Chair, David Cake said, “EFA, along with other civil liberties groups in Australia and around the world, is completely opposed to indiscriminate communications data retention. We recognise that access to communications data about persons of interest is of potential value to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, however we believe there is no justification for a society-wide scheme. Such a scheme puts the privacy, civil liberties and safety of Australians at risk and will involve Australians paying more so that they can be spied upon. Australians should be treated as Citizens, Not Suspects.
“EFA is very appreciative of the support GetUp! is providing to our Citizens, Not Suspects campaign. GetUp’s record of raising awareness and organising Australians across a range of issues is second to none. We call on all Australians that are concerned about indiscriminate data retention to sign our petition atwww.citizensnotsuspects.org.au and to write to their MP and Senators.”
GetUp’s National Director Sam McLean said, “Our members are gravely concerned by the government’s plans to stockpile phone and online data.”
“Just as the USA and EU are winding back similar programs, it’s hard to understand why Australia’s leaders want to take us back in time. Clearly many senior members of the government don’t understand either.”
“We’re pleased to work with EFA again to make sure all Australians are treated as citizens not suspects.”
In addition to the petition, EFA also said is also organising a series of events around Australia to raise awareness about the risks of indiscriminate communications data retention.