Pirate Party welcomes Human Rights Committee findings against Data Retention Bill

Last Friday, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights released its report on the Government’s planned mandatory data retention scheme, reviewing its impact on basic human rights[1]. The Committee of 5 Coalition MPs, 4 Labor MPs, and 1 Greens MP[2] slammed the new bill, citing concerns that in its current form the bill may be in violation of Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary interferences with an individual’s privacy, family, correspondence or home. The Bill’s reliance on future regulation to define the scope of surveillance has the potential to create such an interference.

The report spells out that metadata can be used to extrapolate large amounts of personal information including “political opinions, sexual habits, religion or medical concerns”, that the two year retention period is unjustified, and that it is “very intrusive of privacy”. The report also cites the European Court of Justice ruling against the European Union’s similar “Data Retention Directive”.

“The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has all but confirmed what experts in this field have been saying all along: data retention is disproportionate and unnecessary, it is a serious breach of human rights, and no case has been made for this mass surveillance proposal,” said Brendan Molloy, President of the Pirate Party.

“The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security will hopefully recognise this farce for what it is. It has little do with national security, yet is extremely invasive, will effectively introduce a ‘surveillance tax’ for all Internet users, and will have a direct impact on freedom of expression as a result of the knowledge that everybody can have their position tracked and stored for two years. It is extremely draconian.

“This report provides of a glimmer of hope that Parliamentarians could come to their senses and block this fundamentally destructive proposal.”

The statement of compatibility with human rights provided with the Bill attempted to draw parallels between the effect of this Bill on privacy and that of court investigative methods. The Committee on Human Rights dismissed this claim, citing the difference between targeted and mass surveillance. The report also recommends significant changes to the oversight provisions in the Bill in an effort to reduce the amount of warrantless surveillance that would be introduced. The concerns expressed by various groups that the powers introduced by this Bill will be used for purposes other than those stated was addressed by the Committee, which recommended that restrictions be put in place to limit the use of data to serious crimes.

The two-year retention period was also brought into question with the Committee asking the Attorney-General to justify such a long time when the AGD’s own statement of compatibility states that data used under similar schemes was ‘frequently … less than six months old’. More pressing, however, is the lack of protection provided for professions where confidentiality is paramount, such as the legal and medical professions, and the report questions whether the Bill may affect obligations of professional secrecy.

“As we have previously stated, journalists and lawyers especially should be very concerned that such large amounts of data about their interactions can be accessed for two years without a warrant. Data retention breaks our justice system, weakens journalism and make our digital environment less safe, with literally nothing gained,” commented Mr Molloy.

The Pirate Party will be making a submission on the Data Retention Bill to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and continues to actively campaign against the Bill. The Party recommends that any member of the public who wishes to fight this proposal should arrange a meeting with their federal MP and Senators.

Pirate Party volunteers have made submissions to several national security related reviews and inquiries in the last few months, and the Party has made over twelve submissions to inquiries and reviews in the last year alone[3].

[1] http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Human_Rights/Completed_inquiries/2014/Fifteenth_Report_of_the_44th_Parliament
[2] http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Human_Rights/Committee_Membership
[3] https://pirateparty.org.au/submissions/