Aug 13, 2014

Don’t listen to Bernard Keane: in defence of data retention

Should you be worried about the government's data retention scheme? Alastair MacGibbon, director of the Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra and security general manager for Dimension Data Australia, explains why not.


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21 thoughts on “Don’t listen to Bernard Keane: in defence of data retention

  1. Nicholas

    Alastair McGibbon does not cite any evidence, let alone rigorous evidence, to show that counter-terrorism and law enforcement efforts would be significantly improved by the proposed data retention scheme. Bernard Keane reports that in the EU a similar data retention scheme has had a negligible impact on crime clearance rates. In a recent White House panel review the national security agencies of the United States could not even point to a single case of metadata thwarting a terrorist attack. I’d like to see solid evidence of a major upside to the proposed metadata retention before we agree to the major downside of twenty-three millions Australians having complete metadatasets compiled about them.

    I am unconvinced by the argument that since the private sector is cavalier about people’s privacy, the people should be cavalier about ceding privacy to the government as well. People voluntarily use the services of Facebook and Google and Apple. The proposed scheme would not be voluntary.

    It is wrong to assert that the proposed scheme is not significantly different from the metadata currently collected. Telcos and ISPs generate metadata for billing purposes but this means they hold it for a brief period, not two whole years. Nor is it true that all ISPs retain IP addresses. The proposed scheme would be a very big deal and a major change from the current practice of ISPs.

    McGibbon ignores the financial cost of the additional burdens that would be imposed by data retention. He doesn’t explain why consumers should pay an extra ten dollars a week to their telco or ISP for the privilege of having their privacy infringed, all for the sake of a government determined to reduce by a tiny degree the already tiny risk of Australians being killed by terrorism.

    McGibbon doesn’t address the risk of the metadata being abused. In the history of humankind, has there even been an occasion when a powerful tool, once acquired, wasn’t extended to areas beyond its original remit? Bernard Keane points out how valuable a two year trove of metadata would be to employers in both the public and private sectors who wish to track down and punish whistleblowers. And how valuable such a dataset would be to litigants who would like to embarrass or intimidate their critics. I don’t share McGibbon’s trust in the virtuous restraint of the powerful. I’d like to hear the basis for his faith.

    What has changed in our constitutional arrangements to prevent a repeat of the injustices endured by Mamdouh Habib and Mohammad Haneef? Has our government’s approach to terrorism become less hysterical, less dishonest, and less politically self-serving since those episodes?

  2. David Lilley

    That’s the ‘everyone’s doing it so why can’t we’ argument, which is weak. No where did you address the apparent lack evidence supporting the notion that collecting meta data prevents any terrorist attacks, which is why they want these laws in the first place. I don’t want private companies nor government collecting any data about me unless I actively consent to it, or there is evidence I’ve committed a crime. Anything less is an unnecessary invasion of my right to privacy. It seems as though Tony Abbott’s ‘small government’ only applies to economics, while ‘big government’ seems very much the go in imposing their conservative and draconian social agenda upon us. No thanks!

  3. Matthew Drayton

    Have I accidentally stumbled onto a News Corp Australia website? No. Then what is this bullshit doing on Crikey? A flat-earther tomorrow?

  4. paddy

    Oh FFS Crikey.
    When the first comment (thank you Nicholas) leaves the original writer looking as clueful as a post turtle, you’re not doing the “balance” thing very well.

    What’s up next? Meryl Dorney on the dangers of vaccination?

  5. bluepoppy

    Can we have an article tomorrow titled “Don’t listen to Alastair MacGibbon”.

  6. fractious

    I was going to respond, but Nicholas (#1) (and David Lilley) has covered every point I would have made, and several more I hadn’t thought of. As a counterpoint to Bernard Keane’s series of articles on this subject, MacGibbon’s piece is merely a lightweight PR piece with all the substance of soap suds – far from convincing me that Bernard Keane’s angle is tantamount to paranoia, I’m even more certain after reading this that Keane is right.

    Why Crikey is paying for and publishing this sort of propaganda is something to ponder on.

  7. klewso

    He’s had his say – “we must ensure the system won’t be abused”. Says it all?
    [The FBI was a good idea at the time – then J. Edgar Hoover was slutted in?]
    …. So, let’s do this …. and then wait ’til it is abused?
    Or take the temptation of human nature out of the equation?

  8. bushby jane

    Labor talked about doing it, but Libs were against it. Ha!

  9. Nina Rassaby

    Up until now Telcos may have retained call charge records for billing purposes. Agencies tasked with law enforcement and national security could request access to the information in certain circumstances. However, there has been a move to ‘unlimited’ plans where there is no need for Telcos to retain such records. That is why there is a push to legislate retention.

  10. Stephen Collins

    I’m afraid, Alastair, that your past exposes you as a part of the “the Internet is scary” brigade. The rhetoric from law enforcement (that’d be you, Alastair), and the internet security industry that supports you has been thoroughly debunked by well-researched journalists such as Bernard Keane, and by experts as well-regarded as Bruce Schneier.

    You are fighting a losing battle here; either this proposal will sink as it should, or we will all teach ourselves to properly cover our tracks. Your “be afraid of the shadows” line doesn’t cut it when there is an already more than adequate, judicially overseen, legal framework for you and your ilk to undertake legitimate law enforcement.

    Unfettered access to metadata (and frankly, data, if you know what you’re on about), absent judicial review, and freely in the hands of the AFP and security apparatus of the nation is exactly what this country does not need. Keeping it “just in case someone is naughty” is a lazy, undemocratic, solution.

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