In a bid to ensure the best security for Australian citizens against terrorist attacks, Tony Abbott’s government might actually be putting the privacy of its citizens at stake.
According to reports, Australia’s data retention scheme, which was passed last March, is in reality an official way of taking the rights of common Australians to online privacy. The issue has initiated not only worldwide criticism but also a great debate among citizens.
Data retention laws of the Australian government have also been strongly criticized by former National Security Agency Contractor Edward Snowden.
The mass surveillance approach of Australia has been marked dangerous by Snowden; he also mentioned that such surveillance can do very minimum to protect society against terrorist attacks. It rather makes the country even more vulnerable to terrorist activities as all the attention, time and money are spent keeping and monitoring unimportant records.
Since September, terror alerts in Australia were raised to the highest level; as a measure of protection, the government placed a number of bills landing direct impacts on the online privacy of its citizens.
First, the government changed the law for accessing private online data of citizens by Australian spies (ASIO), which were allowed to get complete access on the networks with just a single warrant. Along with the monitoring power, the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill also introduced a sentence of 10 years imprisonment for any journalist disclosing information about intelligence operations.
A legislation was also introduced to give the government the power to cancel passports of Australians on the grounds of security and restrict traveling to different prohibited areas. This Foreign Fighters Bill was also passed and made into law in October last year.
On October 2014, the government introduced the third law into the set of its anti-terror legislation, the data retention bill in question, which claims to help the government fight crime in the most efficient way. Access of government agencies to digital telecommunication data can be the best way to restrict severe and organized crimes in the country.
However, great doubts were expressed by many security personnel including Edward Snowden about how the laws can actually help the country fight terror.
The controversial data retention bill was pushed through on March 19, 2015 after the Australian government secured a close room deal with the opposition. With support from both major parties, the bill was soon passed as a law.
According to this scheme, the Internet and telecommunication service providers in Australia need to retain metadata of all customers for two years, enabling government agencies to have access over the data of millions of Australian citizens.
The exact definition of “Metadata” has not been defined in the bill. However, it says, that the data will exclude content of emails or calls, as well as URLs and browsing history of users. Information like location of the system, IP address, details about participants involved in a communication, the time and duration of communication are the information that will be stored.
According to the reports, this law may not only hamper online privacy rights of the citizens of Australia but will also enable government agencies to share the vast amount of citizens’ data internationally.
The data retention law will also impact journalists and free press around Australia in a negative way, dampening the effectiveness of information sources, ensuring that there is no fear of being exposed in case of power abuse by government agencies.
It is not only the common people and the press who are going to be affected by this law; the telecommunication providers are the next ones in queue. In order to enable their system to archive user metadata for 2 long years, the service providers need to upgrade their existing systems heavily, which is expected to cost as much as $600 million for the dominant service providers, like iiNet.
Users can still try to ensure their online privacy through encryption, but there is a great doubt with their effectiveness against powerful government measures.