Stand Up Against Mass Surveillance

Declan O’Byrne is an Engineering Science student and Young Labor member

This year the Australian government introduced mandatory metadata retention for all Australians.

The laws force Australian phone and internet providers to store users’ data for two years. Security agencies will be free to probe stored data without a warrant or oversight. This affects the guilty and innocent indiscriminately. It is mass surveillance of us all.

Fortunately there are ways to circumvent this invasion of our right to privacy.

Metadata is data about data – and is often more telling than the data itself. It includes email addresses, phone numbers, names and IP addresses of all participants as well as the time, date and length of your communication. Your location is recorded from your phone and computer.

Do not underestimate what is revealed by the aggregated metadata of how, where, when and with who you communicate.

Metadata will be stored at an estimated cost of $300 million a year – creating a tax that Australians will pay to spy on ourselves. We will never be told if, when or why security agencies access our stored metadata.

The universal collection of metadata is a gross breach of civil liberties. It sets up the Australian people to be victims of abuse by rogue agents and subverts the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Data retention is a dangerous precedent that erodes fundamental freedoms.

In 2006 the European Union introduced data retention laws very similar to ours. But in April 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union struck those laws out.

‘By requiring the retention of those data and by allowing the competent national authorities to access those data, the directive interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data,’ the Court ruled.

There is no evidence on the effectiveness or need for a data retention bill. No evidence that it will reduce crime or make us safer.

In Germany, data retention was found to be unconstitutional. A 2011 study found ‘no impact on either the effectiveness of criminal investigations or the crime rate’.

In 2013 British representatives admitted before the Court of Justice of the European Union that there was ‘no scientific data to underpin the claimed need for data retention’. In the same year the US Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found that ‘there is little evidence that the metadata program has made the United States safer’.

So how can you avoid mass surveillance? There are numerous lawful avenues, many of which are free. Services such as VPNs (virtual private networks) and TOR (The Onion Router) are two leading options.

VPNs are cheap subscription services that connect users to remote networks outside of Australia, delivering anonymity and avoiding data retention. But not all VPNs are equal, so do your research.

TOR is a free service that conceals a user’s location and internet usage.

The software is easily downloaded with a quick online search.

Then there are services – such as Wickr, Signal and Redphone – that provide encrypted phone calls and messaging without storing metadata.

The Australian Government’s data retention laws only capture metadata generated through domestic internet service providers. Services hosted overseas – including Gmail, Yahoo and Facebook Messenger – are not covered.

However Australia routinely shares intelligence with the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada through the Five Eyes alliance.

Forty-eight years after Lionel Murphy fought for civil liberties at an ALP National Conference, we must fight again.


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