Data retention is Labor’s “they can run but they can’t hide” moment on national security.

The scheme proposed by the government — which will cost both taxpayers and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars to implement — is mass surveillance. It significantly increases the capacity of governments and security agencies to target whistleblowers and journalists. And that threat even extends to MPs — if you’re a politician and you’ve ever been an anonymous source, or you’ve ever had someone contact you confidentially or anonymously, data retention threatens you as well.

And that is a threat with no offsetting benefits. Evidence from overseas shows data retention has no significant benefits for either fighting crime or fighting terrorism. Europe has abandoned its own data retention directive as illegal. And Australia already has a data preservation regime that, as Crikey recently revealed, is simply not being used by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, demonstrating that its claims about losing access to communications data simply aren’t justified.

There are few clear ways this bill can be made safe. One possible way is by imposing a warrant requirement for access to any communications data, so that data would be retained but agencies could not access it without a warrant. However, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have rejected such an idea as unworkable. Certainly, in its current form, this bill needs to be stopped. For that to be possible, Bill Shorten and Labor need to abandon their mindless adherence to the idea of staying in lockstep with the Coalition on national security and step up to defend our rights to free speech, a free press, and a democracy in which citizens, the media and politicians can hold the powerful to account.

There’s nowhere to hide, Labor. It’s time to show at least a modicum of good sense and political courage.

Peter Fray

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