In an enormous victory for privacy, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that the EU’s Data Retention Directive is invalid. Under Directive 2006/24/EC, member states of the European Union were required to store telecommunications data for at least six months, and for as long as 24 months. The press release announcing the judgment states that “the directive interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.”[1]

Pirate Party Australia cautioned against introducing data retention into Australia in its submission to the comprehensive revision of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 in February[2]. Earlier, in 2012, the Attorney-General’s Department proposed the introduction of a six-month data retention regime among other reforms to national security legislation[3]. The Pirate Party believes that the ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union validates its opposition to data retention.

“We have raised every concern regarding data retention that the Court of Justice of the European Union has in this judgment,” said Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer, Deputy Secretary of Pirate Party Australia and co-author of the Pirate Party’s submission. “This ruling is a comprehensive criticism of data retention, and a validation of our long-held position. The Court has recognised that telecommunications data poses an enormous threat to privacy if retained. Telecommunications data reveals who you spoke to, when you spoke to them, and where you were. It is a means of tracking the entire population.”

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Pirate Party Australia condemns comments made by Tanya Plibersek, Labor’s Shadow Foreign Minister, who on Sunday “gave a strong signal she was comfortable with telecommunications companies collecting and storing intercepted data for longer periods in order to assist intelligence agencies in their domestic anti-terror investigations”[1]. Ms Plibersek restated the artificial distinction between “data” and “metadata,” likening the former to the contents of a letter and the latter to the envelope. Pirate Party Australia is critical of this analogy, and does not accept or condone the mandatory retention or use of metadata, on the grounds that it is a gross invasion of privacy.

“The idea that metadata is equivalent to reading the address on an envelope is misleading. A lot of information about us can be gathered by looking at what websites we visit, searches we make, and who we communicate with. Complex webs of relationships, interests, daily routines, and political and religious affiliations can be built solely using metadata,” said Fletcher Boyd, Pirate Party candidate for the Western Australian Senate Election this coming Saturday. “It can be far more valuable than the content itself, and this makes it ultimately more dangerous.”

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Pirate Party Australia opposes the imminent abolition of the National Security Legislation Monitor (NSLM).

The NSLM conducts the crucial and ongoing task of reviewing “the operation, effectiveness and implications of Australia’s counter-terrorism and national security legislation”[1]. It provides independent recommendations on protecting individual rights and ensuring safeguards are effective.

The abolition of the NSLM is being conducted under the cover of the Coalition Government’s “Repeal Day,” which is purportedly intended to remove obsolete and unnecessary regulations[2]. The NSLM is targeted on the grounds that its mission is “complete,” despite its recommendations having so far been ignored.

“It typifies the bipartisan nature of the security state that one party would seek to abolish oversight on the grounds that another party ignored it,” said Fletcher Boyd, lead candidate for the Senate in WA. “The removal of external oversight further unbalances our overbearing security legislation and makes it even more urgent that political oversight exists to fill the void.

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A submission made by the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) on telecommunications legislation reform indicates that the Department is little more than a lobbyist for law enforcement and intelligence agencies[1][2].

Pirate Party Australia noted in its own submission to the Comprehensive Revision of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 that the AGD was caught in a “form of regulatory capture whereby those charged with regulating [law enforcement and intelligence agencies] become advocates for or defenders of the retention and expansion of those agencies. The Attorney-General’s Department has in the past argued on behalf of [those agencies] rather than take an impartial view — that is, the Department has advocated that … powers be expanded, including when providing evidence to inquiries on the matter.”[3]

Fletcher Boyd, the Pirate Party’s lead candidate for the Senate in Western Australia, commented: “The submission made by the Attorney-General’s Department reinforces exactly what the Pirate Party submitted to the Senate Committee. The Department is not on the side of the people, it is on the side of those agencies that naturally want more surveillance powers and more authority to intrude on citizens’ privacy.”

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Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, has recently called for the development of an “Internet Users’ Bill of Rights” as part of the “web we want” campaign[1]. Against this backdrop, Pirate Party Australia renews its calls for a global treaty to enshrine net neutrality, freedom from state control, and protection for private communication, free expression and unrestricted access to information[2]. In 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council effectively declared that Internet access should be a human right, and that the same rights that people take for granted offline must be also enshrined online[3].

“Many of the rights we take for granted are being violated online because the Internet is still be treated as a dark and scary place,” said Fletcher Boyd, lead candidate for the Senate in WA. “The approach taken by governments and intelligence agencies is fundamentally misguided. The Internet is not separate to society, it is a key part of how our society functions. Our rights must be respected online just as much as they are offline.”

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