Monday, August 11, 2014

Open Letter to Bruce Billson MP re: Data Retention

Here is the letter that I submitted to my MP via the EFA/GetUp petition on Data Retention. Please consider also signing the petition and writing a letter to your MP, which the form makes extremely trivial to do.

Dear Mr Billson,

I'm extremely troubled by reports that the government is planning to implement a data retention scheme.

There are so many problems with the concept and the intended execution, that I can really only mention a few things here, though I am happy to be contacted to follow up on more details, as I understand that MPs often only hear from the stakeholders who are pushing their agendas, and not from concerned members of the public.

Most importantly, logging information about people for future trawling by unspecified agencies for effectively unlimited purposes is an extreme chilling effect on the exercise of free speech, which the government purports to support.

The argument that "if you don't have anything to hide, then you don't have anything to fear" is fallacious for several reasons, most obviously that the same argument could be applied to you were someone to request to accompany you to the bathroom. More substantial is the quote attributed to Cardinal Richelieu, dating back some 4 centuries that "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

To ASIO's points, which the government has been attempting, quite incompetently, to parrot, that they are only going to collect "metadata" and that the metadata is just an extrapolation of what they've been doing for decades with phone records, there is so much wrong with this that I will keep it as brief as I can.

Firstly, fixed line phones are a different paradigm entirely. Metadata of fixed line phones is limited to source and destination numbers, which are directly attributable to fixed locations, shared typically between many people, and the time and length of phone calls made and received. That is barely anything, though the public would still expect warrants to be issued for that incursion into privacy. After all, if there is a good reason to need to get this data, a judge would be amenable to granting a warrant. The paradigm of modern information services is that it is not fixed locations that are identified, but particular people, and it is not just the act of making calls that is determinable, but acts far more personal to the point of being analogous to introspective contemplation. If you believe that we are still a liberal democracy, you cannot countenance Orwellian thought police, particularly ones who operate without warrants and can go back in time up to 2 years.

Secondly, and following on from the themes of the first point, metadata is effectively as intrusive as everything, content and all. Metadata includes information like: where you are, where other parties are, what websites you are visiting, which individual web pages you're viewing, the locations of individual images on the pages you're viewing, who you're calling, and for how long, when and to where you travel, the subjects of emails (!). There's far more, but things get *really* chilling when you look at the correlations that can be drawn:
- Why were you in the city when you said you were on holiday?
- You emailed a cancer specialist, phoned a hospital and your phone shows you going to the doctor's office.
- Your phone location data shows you going into a gay nightclub

There is just so much wrong with all this, even forgetting about major issues like data security, false positives and broadly-worded legislation that allows for expansion by design.

You can't support this plan, and I hope to hear a commitment from you that you won't.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if this letter is being read by a staffer, please, please, please actually pass it onto Mr Billson, because this is so important that if these plans go ahead, he needs to have all the information, so he can make the courageous decision to cross the floor. Voting with the party line is not an option this time.

Thanks again.

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