The Government, law enforcement and intelligence organisations have repeatedly insisted that Australians have nothing to fear from data retention — they just want to collect “metadata” and not the content of communications. This is a disingenuous attempt at reassurance — “metadata” is data, pure and simple, as one German politician demonstrated.

The website[1], provided by Zeit Online, provides an interactive playback of six months of metadata Malte Spitz accessed from his telecommunications company from 2009, showing his near exact location, fully replayable.

“Across a six month period German politician Malte Spitz was able to use the data retained by his telco to track his movements around Europe. It was able to show how simply carrying a mobile phone with you reveals where you are at nearly all times. This is the sort of mass surveillance system the Australian Government is proposing,” said Brendan Molloy, President of the Pirate Party.

“The information they want retained reveals everything about the communication except the content — if you strip away the doublespeak it is data. This information is far from innocuous. It reveals locations, times and interactions. It can be used to create a picture of where everyone has been and who everyone has communicated with, and very precisely. If you sent a text message to your partner before boarding a plane and called them when you arrived they would be able determine what mode of transport you took based on the time and location differences between those interactions.

“No case has been made that justifies the expansion of law enforcement powers to include data retention. All examples used to jusify the introduction of data retention have been based on successes under the current system, disproving the necessity of creating a surveillance state in which even plaintiffs in civil cases such as copyright infringement will be able to access this data.”

The recently proposed data retention legislation will also have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, with the stored data capable of identifying links between journalists and their sources. The Pirate Party strongly encourages journalists to speak out against the legislation which will put them and their sources at increased risk of prosecution.

“If you publish stories revealing corruption or abuse of powers, law enforcement and intelligence personnel will be able to access, without a warrant, details of who you are communicating with and where you and they were at the time. The risk of being caught will mean less people speaking up and providing information to journalists. Stories that are in the public interest simply won’t be written.

“This is an unmitigated attack on freedom of the press. No one will be safe from the prying eyes of the surveillance state,” Mr Molloy concluded.

[1] http://www.zeit.de/datenschutz/malte-spitz-data-retention

On Thursday, the Government introduced data retention legislation into the House of Representatives as the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014[1]. The AFP has confirmed, even before the legislation has been voted upon in Parliament, that data retention will be used for copyright enforcement[2]. The legislation also confirms that the exact location of mobile phone users will be stored as part of these provisions.

“There are far too many flaws in this legislation to enumerate,” said Brendan Molloy, President of the Pirate Party.

“There has been no discussion as to why the current retention order provisions are insufficient. This legislation is disproportionate and unnecessary. ‘Metadata’ is ill-defined in such a way as to contain so much information that it is effectively the content of the communication, insofar that it contains the context and location of all communications. This is a massive issue for journalists, whistleblowers, activists, and a whole host of other persons whose activities are in many cases legal but perhaps not in the interests of the state to let happen without some level of harassment.

“There are significant issues relating to cost and security of the data. Steve Dalby of iiNet said yesterday that iiNet would consider storing the data where it is the cheapest, which includes Chinese cloud providers. There will be a significant ‘surveillance tax’ introduced by retailers to cover the costs of storing this data that nobody wants stored.

“Now we have it admitted by the AFP today that this legislation will be used for something completely unrelated to national security: copyright enforcement. The legislation hasn’t passed and yet already the scope is creeping! They are taking away our right to free expression and privacy to protect the profits of a few large corporations.

“There is significant evidence to suggest that this legislation, which ensures that all persons in Australia will be under permanent and constant surveillance regarding all of the activities they conduct in the modern world, exists for nothing more than to track and control the entire population through the chilling effect of the knowledge that the Government will be storing your precise location data for two years, and more.

“This has very quickly gone from the fallacious argument of stopping Johnny Terrorist to being abused for civil proceedings such as divorce or copyright infringement. This legislation seems to go significantly further than a similar directive that was overturned by the Court of Justice of the European Union as being disproportionate.

“There is no justification provided as to why this data needs to be stored for every person in this country. Targeted surveillance with a warrant is already possible under current legislation. No exposure draft was provided because the Government knows that this legislation has no support and would be dead in the water if any real public consultation were to be undertaken.

“And the best part: there is still no definition of ‘metadata’ after six years of backroom consultations between the AGD and industry.

“We urge Labor and other Senators to block this abhorrent attack on free expression and liberal democracy which will cause untold damage to our culture and our judicial principals and practices. People have the right to be treated as innocent before proven guilty, and the right to live freely in a supposedly free society.”

[1] http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query%3DId%3A%22legislation%2Fbillhome%2Fr5375%22;rec=0
[2] http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/10/australian-federal-police-we-could-use-metadata-to-prosecute-pirates/

In response to the Senate’s passing of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 last Thursday, the Pirate Party has updated its policies to specifically oppose the Bill and support its repeal in the likely case where the lower house also approves it in the coming days[1].

The Bill makes major amendments to the ASIO Act, giving ASIO the ability to access, modify, copy and delete information on computers. ASIO may also be able to apply for a computer access warrant broad enough to cover every device on the Internet at once. Other amendments will introduce tough sentences for journalists and whistleblowers who report or disclose sensitive information, even if it is in the public interest.

The legislation also grants blanket immunity from prosecution for many illegal acts undertaken as necessary under a “special intelligence operation”, effectively granting ASIO unprecedented powers without the necessary checks and balances required by a legitimate liberal democracy.

Party President Brendan Molloy commented: “Labor has farcically waved through some of the most onerous legislation of the last decade with little more than a rubber stamp, as the Liberal Party whips up yet another fear-based storm of ‘national unity’ with insufficient evidential basis. This legislation criminalises journalism and whistleblowing, regardless of the public interest, while effectively granting ASIO agents the power to do anything they please.

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Australians have just suffered an enormous blow to their freedoms with the Senate passing legislation massively expanding ASIO’s surveillance powers and ramping up penalties for journalists and whistleblowers who report on or expose unlawful intelligence gathering operations. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (No 1) gives ASIO the ability to obtain a single warrant that could permit access to any device connected to the Internet, as well as the power to add, remove, modify and copy any data on those devices[1].

The Pirate Party is apalled that the Bill passed the Senate last night. The Bill gives vast new powers to spy agencies, attacks journalism and is a bigger threat to Australian democracy than any terrorist organisation. These are unprecedent surveillance powers, but are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Pirate Party’s Deputy President Simon Frew commented: “Parliament has just created what could be the broadest, most open-ended warrant system ever conceived. Our ‘representatives’ have deliberately avoided defining key terms, such as ‘computer’ and ‘network’, and refused to restrict the number of devices that could be accessed, which leaves us with a warrant that potentially covers the entire Internet. ASIO operatives will be permitted to access third party computers they think might help investigations, and they will be able to modify the contents without the owner’s knowledge. We simply can’t take our privacy for granted anymore.

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The Pirate Party is calling for the Australian Government to take immediate action on the sentencing of Australian journalist Peter Greste in Egypt yesterday. Greste has been sentenced to seven years for “spreading false news and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood” according to the ABC[1].

Pirate Party President Simon Frew commented: “The Australian Government has indicated its support for Mr Greste and encouraged the Egyptian President to release him[2], however it is crucial at this point not to back down. An Australian journalist has been convicted by a foreign court for doing his job, and now is the time to take severe action on the matter.

“The Pirate Party considers it would be appropriate to expel the Egyptian Ambassador and sever diplomatic ties with the country if the verdict remains upheld. Australia must assert its position and send a strong message to Egypt that freedom of the press, no matter how bad the political situation, is vital to democracy.

“We are calling on the Australian Government to immediately take action to secure the release of Peter Greste and his safe return to Australia. The Government has consistently emphasised its support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Now is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Australia will go to great lengths to ensure these freedoms are protected and those who exercise them will not be punished.

“Both major Parties have a mixed record of defending journalists and freedom of the press. A case in point is the lacklustre defence of Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the last two years. Australia needs to consistently defend the rights of journalists doing their jobs regardless of the nature of the reporting. A free press is an important part of a just and democratic society.”

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-23/peter-greste-found-guilty/5543292
[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-22/bishop-pushes-for-greste-release-on-eve-of-trial-verdict/5541744