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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.

  11. Scott Grant

    The first third of this piece is devoted to “private companies do bad things”. Then somehow this switches to “well the government only wants to invade your privacy a little bit”. So that’s all right then!

    Actually, I would prefer significantly stronger privacy legislation to stop the private companies AND governments from doing those bad things. Not weakening whatever protection we may currently have.

    Interesting that Alastair MacGibbon invokes the Orwellian “Big Brother” metaphor before dismissing it. In another post, elsewhere, I referenced an article which suggests a better metaphor is “Kafkaesque”. The fact that we don’t know the totality of information kept about us. That it might be possible through malicious intent, or simple bureaucratic incompetence, for one of us to be accused of something and not know why, or perhaps even what we are accused of.

    Privacy matters. One should not need to defend that statement. Rather it should be those who would take away our privacy who should be required to provide a powerful justification as to why. So far, I am not convinced.

  12. GF50

    Hear here Paddy! and bravo to all other comments. I agree entirely.
    Original article rubbish attempt at propaganda 101.

  13. GF50

    Hear here Paddy! and bravo to all other comments. I agree entirely. Totalitarian Government Look over there! while we further erode all Australian civil society
    Original article rubbish attempt at propaganda 101.

  14. The Old Bill

    I was working myself into a real sweat over this but thanks to Nicholas, David and everyone else’s comments, I will just have to say, “Alastair you are wrong.”

  15. Chris Key

    If the Aus government is anything like the US, then there will be secret regulations requiring IT businesses to provide back doors and access to data before encryption can occur.

    And what is the benefit in the US? Nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with paranoid government.

  16. klewso

    I thought more terrorism is tripped up by “accidental exposure” (“civil observation”?)- than by the gaggle of paranoid spooks wading thorough a morass of self-opinioned priorities?

    Wasn’t 9/11 telegraphed – but they were “otherwise concentrated”?

  17. Lubo Gregor

    Not to mention the fact that it is possible to opt out of all the private company snooping if one wants to make such effort. Would that be possible in relation to the government snooping? Or would that make one immediately a suspect?

  18. Chris Key

    I have read that if you visit the TOR site then NSA classifies you as an “extremist”

  19. AR

    So we’re only going to be a little bit pregnant. A individual rights only slightly dead. S’OK then.
    Crikey – please tell us that you were paid for this advertisement as I know that you wouldn’t have been so dumb as to pay the shiller… errr.. author for such tripe.

  20. Dubious Virtue

    Ah… a classic “if this then that” argument.

    Google can serve me up adverts according to sites I look at. The govt can detain me according to sites I look at.

    I can use alternative search engines, and ad blockers, and VPNs, and have a dozen email addresses under different names. Can I do that with the government?

    To equate the two forms of data retention is right up there with Brandis’ understanding of how the online world works.

    But I suppose your kind of argument works well with the slightly knowledgeable around the dinner party table. The equivalent of a shock jock diatribe with red wine.

    Then again, your job isn’t about the facts is it? It is about being a polite shock jock and shoveling the nonsense.


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