Tony Abbott’s Consistent Misunderstanding of Data Retention

In a bid to garner support for data retention legislation, Tony Abbott announced that the scheme is vital in combating child abuse and other crimes. “Metadata and its retention is more important than ever if we are going to be able to track what criminals are doing,” said Mr. Abbott.

“This panicked grab for legitimacy highlights the government’s failure to understand the key flaws in the legislation, despite being made aware of them multiple times[1]. Making false claims that the scheme will greatly benefit the fight against child abuse does a disservice to the young victims of sexual abuse, and Australian society as a whole,” said Fletcher Boyd, Deputy Secretary of the Pirate Party.

The Coalition government has continually ignored calls for more protection in the scheme since right now there are no protections in place for everyday Australians. Forced two year metadata retention with no limits on use will inevitably violate the privacy of countless citizens. While Mr. Abbott claims to be fighting against child abuse, his legislation ignores the fact that the data collected could also be used in a wide variety of other cases. From perpetrating domestic violence to stifling the press, the grave implications of this legislation have been ignored.

On top of this, Mr. Abbott expects Australians to foot the bill for his plan. Telcos have estimated the costs of such a scheme will be upwards of $500m[2], a surveillance tax that will be passed on to consumers. The lack of consideration of data security in the bill will endanger private data even further. The chance of accessing such a large amount of data will be a target on the back of Australian ISPs. When coupled with the massive cost of storage, it’s likely that ISPs will turn to cheaper offshore solutions, leaving Australians further exposed and their data being outsourced to offshore entities.

In Pirate Party Australia’s submission to the data retention inquiry[3], Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer wrote, “Criminals (or potential criminals) have already mitigated any such surveillance through the use of encrypted, proxy and anonymizing services, thereby severely reducing the efficacy of data retention. Some criminals will be caught at the lower end of the scale, but they would have likely been caught anyway. Including everyone with a phone or Internet connection in a database of suspicion does not enhance civil and political relationships and responsibilities.”

This highlights an important fact. Regardless of the cost of the scheme it will remain ineffective because the Coalition government is still behind the curve on technical policy. A criminal that has the technical ability to thwart targeted surveillance will not be remotely affected by the scheme.

“It’s alarming to see how fast the government is jumping on the proposed scheme despite the report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights highlighting its disproportionate nature[4]. The Coalition’s basic misunderstanding of technology has led to a scheme that is not only a flagrant violation of civil liberties but is an ineffective tool for any purpose, as highlighted repeatedly in the European examples of data retention regimes,” concluded Fletcher Boyd.