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Thursday, 30 October 2014 06:09

Data retention – secrecy by Government, pussyfooting by Labor Featured

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The data retention debate is still with us, but it seems unlikely that the bill’s many opponents will be able to stop it.

Yesterday opponents of Australia’s mooted data retention laws held a protest meeting in Parliament House.

It was led by three cross-bench senators who oppose the legislation – The Greens’ Scott Ludlam, independent Nick Xenophon, and libertarian David Leyonhjelm. They were joined by a large cross section of communications industry and privacy advocates, including Communications Alliance and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.

Others opposing the legislation include Electronic Frontiers Australia, Pirate Party Australia, Blueprint for Free Speech, Civil Liberties Australia, Internet Society of Australia, Institute of Public Affairs, Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, the Law Council of Australia, Liberty Victoria, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the Australian Privacy Foundation, iiNet, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, and ThoughtWorks.

You might think that is as large and representative group as possible to ensure the Government’s proposals are not followed through, or at least are subject to some scrutiny.

You would be wrong.

The Government has not released details of the legislation – its utterances thus far of been marked by an inability to even understand the concept of metadata. The new laws were dreamed up by Attorney-General George Brandis and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, neither of whom have any technical understanding of what is involved in data retention, or indeed even of what ‘metadata’ is.

The legislation will probably pass because the Opposition – the ALP – supports it. The best it has been able to do is to ask the Government to release the details of the proposed legislation, which it has failed to do.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare have written to the Government asking them to adhere to the recommendation made by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security committee and release an exposure draft as well as commit to sending the legislation to a Parliamentary Committee. Whoopie!

That’s as far as it goes. When Brandis and Abbott announced the plans in August, they were – with some justification – ridiculed for their obvious lack of knowledge of the technology involved in what they were proposing. Abbot’s “it’s just the address on the envelope” comments, and especially Brandis’s disastrous and now-infamous SkyNews interview, expose the depth of their ignorance.

In case you missed the evidence of the extent of Brandis’s combination of arrogance and stupidity, check it out here.

Abbott publicly defended the need for data retention, saying that it must be necessary because ASIO, ASIS and the Australian Federal Police told him it was, and they were the law enforcement and security experts, and therefore they knew best.

This is fox in charge of the henhouse stuff. Of course these agencies want more power – like all bureaucracies they are empire builders.

Abbott dismissed the opponents of the bill as “the civil liberties brigade.” The Government appears to honestly believe it needs greater surveillance powers, and greater data retention powers, to keep Australia safe in this time of an increased threat of terrorism.

As many critics have pointed out, if we reduce our liberties to fight those opposing freedom, we are playing their game. We lose they very thing we are supposed to be fighting for, and the terrorists win. Osama Bin Laden must be chuckling in his grave.

The great Benjamin Franklin summed it up beautifully more than 200 years ago: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Australia is sleepwalking into a future where state surveillance is the norm, as if all the revelations of Julian Assange and Ed Snowden are not warning enough of how this power will be abused.

The three senators and their allies are to be commended. The Government is to be condemned. The ALP, which alone could stop this madness, is damned by its inaction.

But Australian cannot say it was not warned.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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