Something Happened: The Government Wants to Read Your Email

We all do things we’d rather not have others know about. It’s part of being a human being, what goes on between our ears is our own business.

We deserve and expect privacy in what we do as a cultural norm. What we do in the comfort of our own homes as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else, is our own business. You’d think the same applies to what you do online, but you’d be wrong.

The current Labor Government has put forward legislation that would require your current internet service provider to retain logs and information on everything you do online for three years. Every tweet, every facebook update, every email sent, every netbank transaction, every pornographic video you watch, all of it kept in logs at your ISP for the Government to peruse and mine at their leisure.

The stated goal of this program? To provide resources to combat terrorism. You know, the usual catch-all cry thrown out whenever some power-mad bureaucrat decides they need extra powers because otherwise Al-Qaeda will win. The same kind of all encompassing powers that were introduced in the US after 9/11 under the friendly title of “The PATRIOT Act”.

When the legislation was rushed through in the US promises were made by government agencies that the powers would only be used to track down terrorists. A few years later we see this simply is not the case.

As of 2008, the act had been used in 1,618 drug cases and only 15 terrorism cases. Don’t expect these metrics to change if we bring in similar legislation here. If you afford extra powers to government authorities, even in specific cases they will find ways around these restrictions.

Don’t just view it from the perspective of the massive civil liberties invasion, though. Think about what a rich trove of information this stored data would be to those seeking information about, corporate or personal advantage over other people.

The part of the News Of The World scandal that is so rarely brought up is the tight relationships journos had with crooked cops to trade cash for information on private numbers and license plates.

No matter how harsh the penalties, if this database is there, it will be misused. Your internet usage history contains so much about you it’d be a treasure trove for identity thieves. Keep in mind this system has to be set up so that all of your browsing data goes into it. I can’t imagine it would be too difficult for someone with unauthorised access to break in and retrieve that data.

We already have an existing treasure trove of wiretapping laws that are designed to manage the balance between our privacy and the needs for law enforcement to pursue those they believe are engaging in criminal activity. These laws require a warrant for access to information and require the police to provide information that would give reasonable grounds for the issuance of a warrant. This is not the case with the internet retention laws; the information would be stored regardless of whether you were under investigation or not.

Further, giving such information to law enforcement gives them more leeway to charge you under laws you may not necessarily even know exist. Having a giant database of everything you do online is a giant middle finger to privacy advocates everywhere and such a dangerous invasion of civil liberties that it is stunning the Government is being so blase about it. Almost all international security experts agree the threat of terrorism in Australia is minimal. There are no grounds to grant the government such an enormous increase in the scope of their power.

There are currently online campaigns being run by the Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Greens to fight back against this insane power grab. By speaking out about this online, by donating to the EFA and by getting your friends involved in helping to expand their interest in their online privacy, you can make a difference and help stop this from becoming law.

Keep in mind only a few years ago internet censorship was a certainty and the Government only nixed it when they realised it was electoral poison. Help fight back against this intrusion on your privacy and tell the police, ASIS, ASIO and the rest of them that if they want to snoop around your personal information, they’ll need a fucking warrant.

Dan Nolan