Recently, the Australian Government proposed the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015.
To explain this data retention bill in the simplest form, it means that all telecommunications companies have collect and withhold their customers’ data for two years, and make it available to the government.
Now as you might have guessed, this spurred some conflict within the public. A lot of people were against this movement, despite the government’s assurance that the purpose of this data retention was to fight crime (such as terrorism and paedophilia).
Journalists were the most vocal in the disagreement, saying it meant anonymous sources would stop coming forward with information for fear of being exposed, which would prevent journalists from reporting on stories that exposed truths to the public. Media Watch did a story on the data retention bill focusing on the journalists’ perspective, explaining exactly why they were so against the bill.
My opinion of the data retention bill, at first, was that while I agree it would be effective in catching criminals, I didn’t really want my actions to be scrutinised by the government. I tried to convince myself that the bill was worth it. Who cares if the government has access to my data if it means they can stop terrible things from happening? After a discussion with friends, I asked myself this question:
“If I’m not doing anything wrong, then why should I be worried? Why should I care?”
But still I had an uneasy feeling about being watched through my technology (companies already do that enough to collect data for marketing).
I did some research to try to answer my own question, and the best answer came in the form of a TED Talk (as they often do). It is a 20 minute answer, but I assure you it is worth your time.
What Glenn Greenwald revealed to me in his talk was the power surveillance has over human behaviour. Being watched is uncomfortable. Surveillance causes people to change how they act, because those actions are being scrutinised.
This is why surveillance, especially dataveillance, is an issue. People are used to a lack of privacy in public. There are surveillance cameras in stores and streets, people around could be watching, filming or taking pictures, and much more. But dataveillance occurs in the home, where people are used to having privacy. Having their digital actions monitored is an invasion of that privacy, and this is changing the way people act at home, the place they should feel most comfortable and free. This is why surveillance is an issue, and this is why the data retention bill should be challenged by the public.
After realising my immense dissatisfaction with the bill, I began to research those also opposed.
The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) has been against the bill from the start. On the 1st of May they wrote a letter to Simon Corbell, ACT Attorney-General, concerning the bill. This letter included a section titled “Data Retention Bill Fails Every Test.” One of the points they make here is:
“The proposals would have serious negative impacts on normal people, and business”
This shows the damaging effect this dataveillance would have on the public, and the APF has evidence to prove it.
The government is not adhering to the APF’s suggestion that the proposal be rejected, despite the evidence they have been presented with.
The public must fight with the AFP to ensure this “mass electronic surveillance proposal” is not passed into law. If we don’t we’ll never be able to feel comfortable using technology again.