A Police Insider Says Data Retention Could Be Used To Catch Pirates

Concerned about the scope of the currently proposed data retention legislation currently being considered by Parliament? An ex-police officer says that one day, your metadata could be used to identify whether you've been downloading TV shows and movies illegitimately.

Police car image via Shutterstock

A former police officer who has previous experience with metadata and its potential applications has told ABC Radio National's Download This Show that the oversight that currently exists over even currently retained metadata is minimal, and is ripe for abuse.

Using the example of an officer or other accredited agency user accessing metadata to "check up on their ex-girlfriend", the insider told the program that he had never seen a metadata request denied on the basis of its legitimacy, but only cost. He also said that the agency officials talking up the potential of metadata at the moment, and petitioning for more widespread access, have no hands-on experience: "...mobiles weren't invented when they walked the beat."

The extent of even something as basic as smartphone location metadata can be extremely detailed and granular; the huge amount of data that anyone with any kind of online or digital profile generates would be exponentially more useful for any agency with access to the proposed metadata retention regime. Unless there is enough oversight baked into the legislation and restraint exercised in its scope, the potential for abuse is there.

Here's the recording of Download This Show on SoundCloud:

ABC Radio National's Download This Show -- Exclusive: Police Insider Speaks Out on Mandatory Data Retention (SoundCloud)

A former police employee who has worked extensively with metadata has told Download this Show that the government’s proposed mandatory data retention regime is open for abuse and may one day be used against Australians who download music and TV shows. "The Australian people are being sleep walked into a system the attorney general cannot even articulate," said the insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

[ABC Radio National]



    Ha! Jokes on you Police. Dont they realize how hard it is to get reliable internet connection at sea? And Pirates are not bothering to download anything when they reach port. Too busy pillaging!

    Data retention will be used to catch ordinary citizens for what ever our glorious leaders deem necessary for revenue or control. Welcome to the New World Order...

    my metadata will say I'm connected to a vpn.

      They'll have to just outlaw VPNs then.


      I wish I could say I was 100% joking :(

        That would make a lot of businesses very unhappy (I use one to log into the system every day), so we can at least be happy that this should never happen.

      All they need to do is pass a law that VPN's have to keep logs and your done.

        That would only work for VPN's that are located in Australia (very few)
        Most VPN's are specifically located in countries with minimal or no data retention laws to give people like us in Australia an option.

          The likelihood of getting data logs out of a VPN server in Ukraine or Taiwan or Indonesia is "buckleys and none"

          Connect to countries not on this list:
          Or that don't have free trade agreements with the US

          There is a whole world of choices.

          Last edited 23/02/15 12:14 pm

    The 'anonymous insider', assuming he even was a Police officer for longer than 5 minutes, is an idiot and he is spreading misinformation.

    The person who approves requests for data from telecommunication companies is at the same level of management as the people in charge of scenes at sieges, or any other high risk incident. They're charged with auditing the holdings of seized prohibited drugs and they're also oversight people who investigate murders.

    These are senior Police managers. They have extensive experience in general Policing, investigations and are tasked with monitoring, auditing and oversighting the actions of all investigations undertaken by Police officers.

    In order to for them to vet and pass on requests for data the officer must link the rest to an open and current investigation, state exactly what data you want and why you want it and how it will help in the ongoing investigation. The process is electronically logged and audited regularly.

    The fact is that without a significant change in federal and State legislation the metadata cannot be used to 'track pirates' because non-commerical copyright infringement is not an indictable offence and therefore data cannot be sought.

    When making a request for data Police officers must state what offence the investigation is linked to, to satisfy the legislative requirements of requesting the data. An example of when Police cannot request data from a telecommunications company is to unite a lost mobile phone with its owner because losing a mobile phone is not a criminal offence.

    So when your phone is handed in, despite the fact that a simple IMEI request would yield the owner's details so you could contact them and return the item, the law prevents Police from doing so, and asking the communication companies for the information anyway is fruitless as the companies will not provide data unless compelled to (it's better for them if you're forced to buy a new phone).

      Forgive my ignorance...

      But isn't one of the proposals of the TransPacific Partnership agreement making amendments to non american nations criminal codes to allow for the adoption of elements of the american criminal codes on copyright?

        The short answer is "Sort of, it's complicated"

        I'm sure the CEO of Sony would love nothing more than for non-commercial infringement to carry the death penalty in every nation on earth, however that is unlikely to occur.

        The TPP is still being negotiated and a version of the draft TPP has been leaked. This version urged the Australian Federal government to criminalize just about everything, including singing songs in the shower.

        Now that doesn't mean that the Federal Government has any intention of listening to them. But even if they did, it talks about "Commensurate penalties" and things like that.

        Currently the Copyright Act 1968 (CTH) states that commercial copyright infringement is a summary (minor) criminal offence. So it would stand to reason that even assuming the government made non-commercial infringement illegal, it would result in a lesser penalty than commercial infringement... Which means it would also be a summary offence. As it stands currently, metadata requests, search warrants, listening devices, crime scene warrants, telephone intercept warrants, etc, NONE of them can be employed in the investigation of summary offences. This is stipulated in lots of different Commonwealth and State laws, and has about as much chance of changing as I do of getting Jessica Biel and Jennifer Laurence in bed together at the same time.

        You're all just going to have to accept that Police simply do not care about you and your game of thrones obsession. They have actual work to do. Get a VPN, don't get a VPN; Encrypt your data, don't encrypt your data. Whatever. Law enforcement doesn't care, you're unimportant.

          Maybe I am unimportant to law enforcement but what about the MPAA? Won't they use any offense they can apply to wrest a civil penalty from me (assuming I downloaded anything).

            It doesn't work that way.

            You don't need to commit a criminal offence in order to be sued. Civil and criminal Courts are completely different.

            Making something a criminal offence is advantageous to a group like the MPAA because they believe that it will be a deterrent, but also because it shifts the policing and prosecuting away from themselves and onto the State. It's a lot cheaper for them to have the Police of a nation prosecute matters through the criminal Courts than it is to sue everyone themselves. Plus it allows them to step away from any angry sentiment the public might feel towards them. They will deflect onto the Government and Police rather than them having to come up with a great PR strategy for why they're suing their customers.

            The ISPs of this nation are already creating a scheme through which they will provide your details to rights holders under certain conditions in order to facilitate them suing you. This has nothing to do with law enforcement access to metadata.

          Are you sure about that? (the copyright act reference)

          Several people in this debate, including the attorney general and the AFP, have stated that copyright infringement is a civil wrong, not a criminal offence.

          Unless you are making copies to sell, that's a different matter.

            Yeah, I'm sure.

            Non-commercial copyright infringement is a civil issue only. As in sharing an already created unauthorised copy of music or video for no personal gain. This is something the MPAA et al. would love to change.

            Commercial copyright infringement (as in selling pirated music/movies/etc) is a criminal offence.

            You can have a look at s132AF for most of the common offences in relation to commercial infringement, however the following link shows you all the offences contained within the Copyright Act 1968 (CTH).


    Can we please have another up to date article on recommended VPN's? Or is whirlpool the best place to be looking for suggestions?

      torrentfreak.com is a great news site for this kind of stuff, they compare VPN's every now and then

      torrentfreak do a once a year article (however the last one was in December 2014 and a new one for 2015 should be released this week sometime).

      My current top picks are:

      ironsocket - based in hong kong, doesn't keep logs, can choose desired encryption vs speed level, p2p apps (like torrents) are only OK on particular servers.

      private internet access - the australian servers are a bit slow lately but they will add more, well known for protecting it's users, torrents are ok on any server so just leave it on automatic connection for best results, based in US but will move offshore if data retention is slated there.

      torguard - a bit more expensive than PIA above but also has many more servers and connection options. Combine the VPN + proxy service together and you will get a discount at checkout, the two of them together are great for double protection, so eg VPN to Indonesia or Canada and proxy your torrents through sweden or netherlands. Only allows p2p through particular servers.

      SlickVPN - US company like PIA but with many more servers (and their windows client is vastly superior), expect to be doing a manual setup involving importing openvpn configuration files into an app in android however (tip: download the windows openvpn config files and import desired servers into OpenVPN for android). Allows torrents through any server.

      proxy.sh - Australian servers are painfully slow and always have been. If you are torrent user you should be using faster servers in Asia, Canada or Europe. Their transparency report is a good guide to which servers to torrent through, based in seychelles in africa, has a strong reputation for protecting users privacy and has many anonymous payment methods.

      I've also heard good things about ipvanish (US), tigervpn (slovakia, eastern europe), nordvpn (Panama, south america), blackvpn (hong kong), and bohlevpn (lifehackers previous favourite, Malaysia based)

      Last edited 23/02/15 12:36 pm

    Aren't Police supposed to be catching actual criminals, instead of some poor schnook that wants to watch an episode of Sons of Anarchy?

    Last edited 20/02/15 6:22 pm

      Currently, a cop can't arrest you for piracy anyway, since it's not actually a crime.

      But don't expect it to be too long before copyright infringement gets lobbied into becoming a criminal offense, the way the government's looking at the moment.

      But catching crims costs money! Buy you can MAKE money from issuing fines and infringements to people!

        Police don't make money from issuing fines.

        Money collected from fines issued by any government agency goes towards consolidated revenue for the government to do whatever it likes, but it doesn't go back to Police.

        As for fines 'making money'... NRMA reports that NSW motorists were issued with $312 million dollars in fines in 2007 (first article I came across in a google search). Considering that the average HWP officer makes around $90k p/a plus drives a $100,000 car (including equipment), and has 9% superannuation, plus health insurance, administrative costs, uniform costs, training, time lost due to Court appearances, overtime paid at 1.5 or 2 x the usual hourly rate, you're looking at a ballpark figure of a HWP officer costing the government around $250,000 a year. 312,000,000 / 250,000 gives you around 1,248 officers being 'paid for' by fine revenue. Considering there are 16,500 NSWPF officers and another 3,500 civilian staff with an annual budget of around $3,000,000,000 a year. Fines are HARDLY making money for the government even if they were funnelling every single cent back into the NSWPF.

        Considering that there are around 1,000 HWP in the NSW Police Force, that means that 15,500 Police are out doing other work. Goes to show you how little emphasis the Police place on motorists compared to, you know, actual crime.

          Sorry to disillusion you, but the average Australian police officer earns $67,868 regardless of whether they are a HWP or a desk jockey. The people he/she is writing tickets for are almost always earning more than them, hence the smirk ..

          Having said that, you have made some good points on this thread!

          Last edited 23/02/15 10:18 am

            Thanks for the positive comment. However I am not deluded in this case.

            The average level of service in the NSWPF is around 6 or 7 years. Making them a Senior Constable Level 1 or Level 2 Step 1. Putting their base wage $81,000 - $82,000 (including their 11.5% loading).

            This does not include shift penalties, such as working at night or public holidays... Which the HWP tend to do a lot of.
            This does not include the HWP specialist allowance (don't ask me why HWP earn this).
            This does not include rostered overtime paid for by the Centre For Road Safety (used to be funded by the RTA).
            This does not include inevitable overtime incurred throughout the course of the officer's normal duties.

            This brings the figure (conservatively) at around $90,000 for the average HWP officer. Police are well trained, well equipped and well paid in Australia.

            A "desk jockey" depending on what they do can earn more, or less, depending on their role. Prosecutors and Detectives are well paid, the roster clerk - not so much.

            Here is the current Award for the NSW Police Force

          Lets not forget they don't need as many highway patrol officers to raise revenue these days with revenue camera's everywhere.


            You will note that the NSW Police Association (the NSWPF union) campaigned against mobile speed cameras being introduced into the State highlighting a range of issues as to why they aren't the best idea, if reducing road trauma is your primary goal.

            The mobile speed cameras in NSW are run by the RMS and contracted out to an international company of which the Macquarie Bank is a primary share holder. They have nothing to do with the NSW Police Force.

      yeah. that guy is being punished enough by Charlie Hunnam's random accents.

    Don't have a VPN ( yet,no need to ) I'm simply happy using EZTV So I can watch TV episodes when the rest of the world talks an blogs etc about it.am I such a criminal?

      I use pop corn time so I'm not pirating but I am watching pirated content. Would I be done for pirating if I'm not keeping a pirated copy on my computer ? I think these are grey areas but I'm not sure.

        I think so, considering you are obtaining copyrighted material without payment (ie consent) to the creator/distributor of the material.

          But from listening to the iiNet/Dallas Buyer's Club LLC court case, they wouldn't be interested in leachers (like PCT). They're only interested in the seeders. So this should mean that options like that would realistically (for the time being) be a safe(r) option.

            For torrenting im quite sure when you download you're also sharing/uploading to others, especially when it comes to new movies. Not sure if there is a way to prevent uploading, just restrict it to a really slow speed. If that is the case (ie you cant prevent uploading when you are downloading) then in effect, you are a seeder and leacher at the same time.

              You can stop it (though they don't like that very much).

        Popcorn time works on torrents, so you ARE actually sending back data to other people while you watch.

    Vpn's have been banned in other county's only a matter of time, because if u have a VPN your a terrorist

      Don't schools use VPN's ?

        Most likely business banks government will be exempt from it

        Businesses too. I would be unable to work if they banned them.

      Where have they been banned ? That's CRAZY talk !

        Well not banned yet Sweden and Russia I trying to ban them

          That's not true either. They may have looked into it, but quickly looked at china and syria and how the practice of trying to stop VPN use has cost them a bucket yet achieved almost nothing.

      There's so much misinformation in that one sentence i'm not even sure where to start.

      - Only a few very oppressive regime's have "banned" VPNs
      - despite any "ban" the only way to successfully stop VPNs from connecting to the internet is to disable the internet.
      - VPNs can be used for many purposes
      - most businesses and government agencies use VPNs including all levels of government in Australia
      - any terrorist wouldn't be using one single VPN or proxy as they would easily be caught

    So register yourself a business name and voila!

    I'm surprised by the amount of peope who are fretting over these supposed insider 'revelations'. It's not as if pirating priced video content is legal anyway...

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