Pirate Party Australia expresses grave concerns at the stance taken by the four Police Commissioners at the National Security Commission Hearings in Sydney on Wednesday, who made clear their desires for vastly overreaching data retention schemes.
While professing to have only “true and pure” motives, the four commissioners reluctantly accepted the proposed two-year retention period while stating they would prefer five-year, seven-year or even unlimited retention periods.
“It appears that the police commissioners are trying to portray their two-year retention proposal as a reluctant compromise, yet any blanket warrantless arbitrary retention of the communication data of the entire population is a totally unnacceptable risk to civil liberties and fundamental privacy rights,” said Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer, Deputy Secretary of Pirate Party Australia. “While arguing about ‘how out of date interception laws are,’ they seemed oblivious to the fact that an intrusive scheme of warrantless retention of data was already passed under the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill. These amendments provide targeted retention on request, rather than automatic blanket retention of everyone’s data.”
“We object to any widescale surveillance systems, and oppose mandatory data retention for all Internet connections, regardless of the retention period. Judicial oversight and explicit, limited warrants are necessary safeguards that the National Security Inquiry discussion paper proposes to eliminate. It appears that the police commissioners are essentially saying ‘trust us’ while attempting to do away with judicial oversight of their actions, railing agianst the ‘burdensome’ nature of warrants – an element key to protecting society from abuse of powers.”
The Pirate Party is alarmed by the cavalier attitude displayed by the police agencies as to the “burdensome” aspect of warrants and the lack of regard to ways such powers could be abused and compromise privacy.
Despite proponents of the reforms consistently referring to data retention schemes in Europe as a model, they fail to mention that such schemes have been found unconstitutional in Germany, Romania and the Czech Republic, as the EU directive violated privacy rights.
“The constant assertion that ‘only metadata will be stored’ is at best a disingenuous attempt to minimise the very real personal content present in such data. At worst it shows a reckless lack of understanding of what this information can actually reveal about people’s personal lives.”
“We categorically reject the idea of large scale monitoring of all Australians. It is telling that countries with past histories of overbearing surveillance have rejected such schemes as too extreme, yet a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald reveals that Australia is now a world leader in surveillance. Australia has been lucky to have experienced a history of democratic freedom, perhaps we have become too complacent to the dangers of encroaching upon our rights and civil liberties,” Mr Olbrycht-Palmer continued.
While the Pirate Party applauds the step towards transparency by holding public hearings on such an important matter, the blatant lack of respect that some members of the PJCIS show towards people making submissions and speaking at public hearings against the proposal is gravely concerning. The levels of decidedly hostile questioning for opponents contrasts with the apparent soft touch given to those in support of the reforms, with many claims seemingly taken at face value.
The discussion paper has been derided widely, even by committee members, as being overly vague, with the most controversial data retention provisions given scant detail. PJCIS members should be objective in their consideration of proposals and the behaviour displayed thus far has been unprofessional and discourteous.
The opening statments of the Council of Civil Liberties called the discussion paper “quite appalling” and their representative stated that “if it was a first year essay I would have covered it with red ink.”
“The fact that our parliamentarians are proud to unashamedly proclaim their lack of expertise and incompetence in areas they are tasked with legislating is extremely disturbing, as is their tendency to veer into areas of irrelevance and failure to grasp the fundamental aspects,” concluded Mr Olbrycht-Palmer. “Quite frankly, the entire process has been disgraceful.”