Sunday, 22 February 2015 17:51

Metadata retention: Government DOES care about Game of Thrones, suggests Senator

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Greens Senator Scott Ludlum has disputed claims by the AFP that the mandatory retention of metadata by ISPs will not be used to infringe on individual privacy or to go after bittorent downloaders. He believes: "If the state's got your phone, it's got your soul."

Senator Ludlam is concerned about the proposed metadata retention requirements, pointing out that "metadata in aggregate is content."

The current situation feels similar to the debate over internet filtering, where "similar arguments were levelled" about the need to law enforcement to keep up with technology.

At a conference today Senator Ludlam said he has no beef with the agencies concerned - just a "strong but respectful disagreement" about where the balance should be struck.

Ludlam's concern is with the politics of the situation: "the Attorney-General's Department has found an Attorney-General weak enough to actually proceed" with changes, unlike former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.

There is no real dispute about the need to investigate serious crimes and national security issues, he said, or the importance of metadata in such investigations: "nobody disputes telecommunications is really important."

Rather the questions are about discrimination and targeting, and the need for judicial oversight of the severe infringement of individual privacy needed to protect the state when "individual customers can have their privacy totally violated."

"[Getting a warrant] is tough for a bloody good reason." While there may be a case for streamlining the process, "we would unwind that protection at our peril."

Referring to Australian Federal Police national manager high tech crime operations assistant commissioner Tim Morris's earlier presentation at the same event in which he said access to metadata about only 0.14% of IP connections was requested, Senator Ludlam said if you detonated 0.14% of Australian's homes there would be an outcry.

"I think things are wildly out of balance."

Furthermore, he said that Morris's claim that the proposal introduces no new powers was only partially correct as it widens the list of agencies entitled to access metadata

He also noted that the Attorney-General's Department was unable or unwilling to produce any evidence from overseas (e.g., Germany, which he said has introduced and then rolled back metadata retention measures) that a lack of data retention significantly harms law enforcement efforts.

Senator Ludlam said the 10 Greens plus three or four cross-benchers would vote against the Bill, but suggested the ALP will vote with the Coalition to pass the it. So the role of the Bill's opponents will be to propose or support amendments that improve it, such as reducing the retention period, and providing protection for whistleblowers and journalists.

"I'm much more worried about the politics" than the policy, he said, asserting that the way the issue is being handled by his fellow politicians was more distressing than the behaviour of the agencies involved. He singled out Prime Minister Tony Abbott, labelling him "a total bully."

Asked whether retained metadata could be used for copyright enforcement (Morris said the AFP is not interested in people torrenting episodes of Game of Thrones), Senator Ludlam said "I think that's what this is mostly about."

"God knows what's in the Trans Pacific Partnership," he said.

"It's breathtakingly simple what's going on."

A video of Senator Ludlam's presentation can be seen in full here at iTWire.

Image: Munir Kotadia, TechTV

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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