While the Parliament tussles with the idea of how the metadata of citizens like you and I should be captured and stored for two years to bolster Team Australia, the Australian Greens are singing a different tune. In an interview yesterday, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said he finds the prospect of a know-nothing government building a data retention scheme “terrifying”, adding that he’d like to see access wound back rather than expanded.
Speaking in a Sky News interview yesterday, Senator Ludlam launched a scathing attack on both sides of politics for supporting a data retention scheme, something the Senator believes they know nothing about.
“I think it’s terrifying. The Prime Minister and Attorney-General, who have not the faintest idea what they’re talking about, [are] proposing a radical expansion of the ability for ordinary Australians to be surveilled if you’re accused of a crime or not, and we don’t even have a working definition of exactly what it is that they want to catch. It’s completely inexcusable,” he said, before adding that the Labor Party needed to start “acting like an Opposition Party” and oppose the mass-surveillance of millions of Australians.
Senator Ludlam continued to challenge the view that the data retention scheme would serve to capture information that telcos already generate, adding that to do so would generate mountains of data.
“It’s dead wrong and deceptive to say we’re trying to codify what already happens [at telcos].
“I wish once…that [Brandis] would listen to the technical community. Industry and those who would have to build the system he’s proposing [are] talking about new data centres worth of material, that is kept in some instances for milliseconds. It’s data that’s flowing through mobile phone towers and not retained for more than a few seconds, they want to start warehousing that material on every man woman and child in the country for reasons they simply haven’t described yet,” he told Sky.
Ludlam has spent the last few weeks trying to extract answers from Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, who is the architect of the Government’s data retention plan.
The Australian Greens plan to move a motion in the Parliament in two weeks to try and get at least a working definition of metadata, so that Senators and MPs have something to actually debate.
At the same time as his scathing TV interview, the Senator has set up a Tumblr account aimed at sharing hilarious memes around stopping the roll-out of a data retention scheme.
Ludlam admits that if he had it his way, he and the Australian Greens would make it harder for support agencies like Centrelink and the RSPCA to get warrantless access to metadata.
“This is not a national security measure. When you look at who already accesses Australian’s metadata, not a single warrant needing to be issued, it’s Centrelink. For a while it was the Victorian Building Commission; it’s the Taxi Driver Directorate. Vast amounts of material is being vacuumed up by dozens and dozens of agencies without justification. If you roll mandatory data retention over something that I think is already quite flawed, you get something that I think is much, much worse.
“There have been sensible reforms that have come out of various committees to [limit warrantless access], to narrow the range of agencies that can access [metadata], and also to increase the penalty threshold so that people aren’t accessing this stuff for trivial purposes, which we know does occur. The most important thing we can do is require agencies to simply get a warrant. If you require a warrant to listen in on somebody’s phone call, you should need to get a warrant in order to track one of these devices around the landscape wherever you go.
“Serious invasions of privacy are occurring, and regulatory oversight is practically non-existent,” the Senator added.
Ludlam’s swipes at Senators and Members comes the same week as the first tranche of new National Security legislation were passed into law.
A few of the amendments include:
• a provision that ASIO can spy on an undetermined number of computers, potentially the whole internet if you wanted to get scary about it, with a single search warrant;
• provisions that enable Australia’s spy agencies to work together more (because sharing whose privacy your breaching is caring);
• greater penalties for those who reveal ASIO officer identities or release secret documents.
After the passing of the Bill, the Attorney General flagged that a Bill to formalise the nation’s first data retention scheme would be in the Parliament before the end of the year.