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Federal

May 2, 2017

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Even if you ignore the evidence about ineffectiveness of data retention and believe it is necessary, there are a number of ways in which the Australian Federal Police’s “accidental” breach of the journalist information warrant requirements for investigating journalists could have been avoided, or handled differently.

In a supplementary submission to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry into the data retention bill in 2014, Professor George Williams responded to a request from the committee during his evidence about the use of a “Single Point of Contact” (SPoC) within an organisation, as occurs under the United Kingdom’s data retention regime. Such a scheme would be a “useful addition”, according to Williams, even if it didn’t address the major flaws of data retention. “For example, if a junior police officer wanted to access communications data under Part 1, Chapter 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (UK), he or she would first submit an application to the SPoC. The SPoC would then consider the merits and lawfulness of that request, and provide advice on its drafting, before sending it to a senior designated officer to be authorised.”

Had such an officer been in place within the AFP, an officer would not have “mistakenly” accessed a journalist’s metadata in breach of the law. The intelligence and security committee considered this safeguard, but rejected it.

[AFP admits to data breach involving journalist’s phone records]

That AFP officer faces no consequences for this breach. In the data retention legislation, there are no penalties for breaching the journalist information warrant requirements, of any kind. The only penalties in the relevant legislation are for revealing the existence of a journalist information warrant — for which you can go to jail for two years. So the officer who failed to get a journalist information warrant doesn’t even get a slap on the wrist, but the journalist targeted by the AFP could be jailed for two years if he or she finds out one exists and reveals they’ve been targeted — to anyone, including their sources.

There are also no consequences if an agency fails to advise the Attorney-General that they have obtained a journalist information warrant, as they are required to do under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act. Nor are there consequences if the attorney-general fails to tell the joint committee — which they are also required to do. 

The alleged protections for journalists contained within the hastily drafted “journalist information warrant” section of the legislation were introduced when the mainstream media belatedly woke up to the threat posed by the data retention regime on the eve of its passage and began demanding special protection. That the AFP can insouciantly declare it broke the law but everything is fine, it was just “human error” and that it doesn’t even intend to tell the journalist concerned (anyone who has written a story involving a public service leak could be the target), illustrates just how badly the joint committee did its work of vetting the legislation and crafting basic protections in 2014.

And while the committee was then chaired by Coalition MP Dan Tehan, much of the blame rests with Labor, which took the path of least resistance to Tony Abbott when it came to national security, leaving the Greens, Nick Xenophon and David Leyonhjelm to fight data retention in the Senate. Labor’s lead on the debate on the bill in the Senate was Jacinta Collins, who accused the Greens of “deliberately and irresponsibly misrepresent[ing] the facts for their own cynical political purposes” and “a hysterical campaign of misinformation”.

Collins boasted “Labor forced the Abbott government to implement a regime whereby it will be illegal for agencies to access metadata for the purpose of identifying a journalist’s source unless they first obtain a warrant, generally from a court.” Collins, ridiculous at the time, is now demonstrated to be the fool she’s widely known as within parliament — it’s not “illegal” at all, senator. The AFP just rode roughshod over Labor’s amendment, without any consequences whatsoever.

But while Labor was too busy selling out the basic rights of Australians just in case the worst Prime Minister in history suddenly found his touch and ran a scare campaign against them, another group also failed to do its job. The independent media, civil society groups, the Greens and the tech industry media had been warning of the dangers posed by data retention to journalists for many years and particularly since 2012, when then-attorney-general Nicola Roxon first put forward the idea. But the mainstream media showed virtually no interest in the bill under Labor and minimal interest until the Abbott government was on the verge of passing its own bill. Admittedly, some did show some interest in it — to cheer it; some insisted data retention was not “mass surveillance” and only the guilty had something to hide.

[Your guide to the data retention debate: what it is and why it’s bad]

The fact that no evidence has ever been produced from anywhere in the world to justify data retention was of no interest to the Press Gallery. The fact that, inevitably, data retention would not be used, as promised, only for the most serious crimes, but for any passing whim security agencies had, did not dawn on them until the last moment. And then, the media’s only, belated interest was in the impact of data retention on themselves. The impact on other professions that require (perhaps more than journalists do) confidentiality and freedom from surveillance — lawyers, doctors, activists, politicians, perhaps even priests — was of no interest to journalists and editors. The impact on ordinary Australians, whose personal data would become part of a vast honey pot stored offshore as a compelling target for thieves, certainly wasn’t. But last week there was plenty of anger when a journalist was treated by the AFP just like ordinary citizens, and their data seized without a warrant.

The intelligence and security committee failed to do its job, the opposition failed to do its job, and the media failed to do its job. No wonder the AFP thinks it can do what it likes.

 

Federal

Apr 20, 2017

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The timing of Attorney-General George Brandis’ decision to drop plans to allow metadata to be accessed during civil lawsuits on issues like piracy has more to do with the politics than seeing the light.

Late on Thursday, just before many people kicked off for a long Easter weekend, Brandis quietly announced that the government had dropped plans to allow all the data that telecommunications companies are retaining — purely as part of the mandatory data retention regime — to be accessible under civil lawsuits.

This would have meant that the data would have been available to film companies chasing alleged pirates, or companies chasing the sources of journalists writing stories about their corrupt behaviour.

The government floated the idea late last year just before Christmas, and despite the timing, submissions made to the inquiry from telecommunications companies, media companies, and the public in general were largely opposed to the proposed change, raising the question as to why the government had even considered it in the first place.

Then last Thursday, the government went cold on the proposal. The review conducted by the Attorney-General’s Department found that the case had not been made for access to data. In particular, most individuals sending in submissions were opposed:

“Of the 217 individuals who made submissions, four expressed support for allowing civil litigants access to the data. Almost all other individuals were strongly against making exceptions, largely because of concerns about privacy. A range of submissions expressed concerns that providing access to retained data for civil proceedings would be an expansion upon the stated national security and law enforcement objectives of the data retention scheme, including in relation to cases involving copyright infringement.”

Why the change in heart? Was it simply that those who wanted it in the first place didn’t make their voices heard, or was there more politics involved?

It was curious, then, that this announcement was followed this week by the release of the latest Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) survey on cybersecurity, announced by Brandis as “AUSTRALIAN CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE ORGANISATIONS TARGETED BY CYBERCRIMINALS UP TO HUNDREDS OF TIMES EACH DAY” (we apologise — Brandis thought it needed to be shouted in all caps), even though the report itself doesn’t specifically mention critical infrastructure in this context (it has two mentions related to the role of ACSC and CERT Australia). 

The decision to drop the civil suits, and the phrasing of the release about the survey to be all about critical infrastructure seems to be more to do with getting on the good side of telecommunications companies about legislation currently before the Senate, which will give the government power to direct companies what tech they can and can’t put in their networks — what is referred to in the sector as the No Huawei (a Chinese tech company) legislation.

Brandis is setting up the case for justifying these new intrusive powers as a means to protect from foreign spies, while also seeking to allay concerns with the average consumer about how their data is being used. The legislation is a big change for the telecommunications companies, but ultimately won’t have a major impact on customers — aside from potentially higher prices because the companies are forced to buy tech the government wants rather than the cheapest one on offer.

It also comes the week after telecommunications companies  were required to have their mandatory data retention systems in place, and in a Twitter chat yesterday using the hashtag #LetsTalkCyber, the prime minister’s adviser on cybersecurity matters Alastair MacGibbon was asked about whether mandatory data retention created a bigger cybersecurity risk for these companies retaining the data. MacGibbon said data retention “solves serious crimes” and he didn’t buy that it made the companies more at risk, because they already hold a lot of data.

The chat seemed to be more about allowing security vendors to ask Dorothy Dixers than real engagement, in any case. Including questions that seemingly made no sense, as though they were cut and pasted from emails about proposed questions to ask during the chat.

News

Mar 3, 2017

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

What was behind Rudd’s Israel stoush? Some possible context for that Rudd-Netanyahu stoush last week, when the former prime minister made some very telling points at the expense of the Israeli leader — especially about Israel’s 2010 abuse of Australian passports, which left even the most zealous pro-Israeli lobbyists here aghast. Labor sources claim one of Rudd’s devoted party enemies, right-wing South Australian senator Don Farrell, invited then-Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem to a meeting of Labor powerbrokers during Rudd’s 2012 leadership bid against Julia Gillard. Sources say the ambassador — who now heads the Israeli foreign ministry — was present while phone calls were being made to MPs about opposing Rudd, whose expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over Israel’s abuse of Australian passports had made Jerusalem very unhappy.

Farrell absolutely denies this ever happened. The Israelis, however, are not quite as adamant. A Foreign Ministry spokesman told Crikey “as an inherent  part of his diplomatic mission, former Ambassador Yuval Rotem met many Australian politicians from all aspects of the political spectrum. It is not the role of any ambassador to have an input with respect to the internal political debate within any political party.” Indeed.

‘Data integrity’ keeps spy report secret. The revelation by ASIO in an estimates hearing earlier this week that it had obtained a “small number” of journalist information warrants to access the metadata of a working journalist was only news because the Attorney-General’s Department annual report for 2015-2016 on what its spy agencies get up to with metadata has yet to be released. The report is notionally usually released by November but as of March, the department is still keeping the reports under wraps, almost nine months after the reporting period. In response to questions from Crikey yesterday, the department reiterated previous statements in January given to tech publications that the department was taking more time to review the report before making it public to ensure “data integrity” with what agencies were now required to report under the new data retention regime.

This includes statistics on the number of warrants handed to agencies like ASIO or the Australian Federal Police to go sniffing through the metadata of journalists to chase their sources. The Australian Federal Police has also been reluctant to say whether or not it has obtained journalist metadata (for say, investigating leaks from NBN, or the defence white paper) too. Senator Nick Xenophon — who asked ASIO in estimates about the matter — told Crikey that he didn’t understand why ASIO would refuse to disclose the number of warrants issued.

“People can read the Hansard and make up their own mind. I just don’t understand how on earth can it compromise national security just to know how many journalist information warrants have been issued.”

‘Advanced’ Australia Fair. A little more on George Brandis’ delight in torturing the English language. Last September, Brandis stood up in the Senate in answer to a Labor question and said “There are things to be celebrated — like the fact, for example, that Australia’s economic growth is now 3.3%, the highest rate of economic growth of any G20 nation”. That’s complete nonsense, of course, because the G20 includes countries like China and India that are growing at rates many multiples of our own. So Labor asked Brandis on notice: “Is it correct to say that Australia’s economic growth figures are the highest of any G20 nation?” Brandis’ reply was that “At the time the statement was made, Australia’s growth rate was the fastest of any major advanced economy in the G20.” Needless to say, the word “advanced” never appeared in Brandis’ original answer — not even several paragraphs earlier in the answer from where, like those important words “I recall”, they could exert a magical influence to rescue George from his own bungling later on. Then again, Brandis might be a lousy lawyer, but he’s a better lawyer than he is an economist.

Please, please, please let me come to your party? One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts — who deserves credit for rocking up to estimates hearings this week while his leader was too busy doing publicity work in Queensland — loves US President Donald Trump. In his Senate office window, in addition to his “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, there is a poster of the 45th president. We have already reported that it was revealed in January that Roberts was not, as he had claimed, invited to the Trump inauguration, but had in fact begged for tickets. In Senate estimates last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade revealed other politicians in Australia had asked the department to secure tickets, but then dropped it. Only Roberts’ persisted.

“A number of people made inquiries, were given advice, and chose to let it go. Senator Roberts made a number of requests that we pursue whether tickets were available.”

The department is going to report back on exactly how Roberts’ made the requests, and how many requests were made.

Too rude! (For a little while.) Anyone who has recently encountered Clive Palmer’s Samuel Beckett-like musings on Tim Tams while scrolling through their news feed might be forgiven for thinking Facebook does not discriminate much when it comes to promoted content. However, when auction house Mossgreen wanted to run an ad featuring Charles Blackman’s 1980 painting Women Lovers, it found that there is a line the social media giant will not cross.

When Mossgreen tried to promote a video featuring the work — which depicts two naked women — it received feedback from Facebook saying “this advert wasn’t boosted because it violates ad guidelines by advertising adult products or services including toys, videos or sexualising enhancement products”. The matter got some coverage in the media, and as The Australian reported this morning, the decision has now been reversed. Which is interesting, because Nicole Kenning at Mossgreen told us that the company had made several approaches to Facebook privately about the decision, and the social media giant said the decision was final. Then, after the story was reported in several outlets, Facebook sent an email to Mossgreen stating it had “reviewed the ad and decided to approve it”. Kenning says the email was “unprompted”, but we’re not so sure that’s the word.

Local government workers to face penalty rate cut? While we’ve all got penalty rates on the brain, a tipster pointed Crikey towards another potential reduction for a group of workers, this time in local government. Local government councils in New South Wales are in the process of negotiating a new award for 2017, and our tipster tells us the Local Government NSW employer association is “aiming to remove all penalty rates completely for Recreation & Community Service staff under the Local Govt Award (NSW) so that Saturday/Sunday work is paid at normal rates like Monday-Friday”. 

We had a look at the employer representative’s log of claims, and among the proposed conditions put forward are amendments to clauses concerning Saturday and Sunday work to “remove weekend penalties for recreation and community services functions”. Community and recreation staff could include roles such as rec centre employees, pool superintendents and childcare workers. Another claim seeks to extend the ordinary hours (i.e. hours before overtime kicks in) for “indoor” staff (like administrative, finance, library employees) from 35 to 38 per week. 

The United Services Union said it wouldn’t comment while negotiations were ongoing, and a LGNSW spokesperson told Crikey the association had worked with the union for many years jointly proposing awards to the New South Wales industrial relations commission and had “no interest in prosecuting negotiations through the media”.

Negotiations are expected to conclude in June.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Federal

Mar 1, 2017

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So now we know, courtesy of ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis’ admission at Senate estimates yesterday, that ASIO has been pursuing journalists’ sources using data retained under the government’s mass surveillance regime.

In response to questioning from Nick Xenophon, Lewis admitted yesterday that ASIO had obtained a “small” number of warrants but declined to reveal how many.

“Journalist information warrants” are a special scheme under the data retention regime, introduced in response to an outcry from the media when the Abbott government introduced the laws with the support of Labor. It requires ASIO to obtain approval from the attorney-general to seek metadata that would reveal the sources of a journalist, and the Australian Federal Police and other agencies to apply to a warrant-issuing authority for such a warrant. The AFP has previously stated it has never sought such warrants (understandably — for the purposes of investigating leaks, it is easier for the AFP to obtain the data of everyone within an organisation suspected of leaking and identify who has contacted a journalist, than to go through the journalist information warrant process). 

ASIO, we now learn, has tried to track down a small number of journalists’ sources — a major assault on a free press that has gone strangely unremarked since Lewis made the admission. But there’s a caveat attached to the legislation providing for these warrants, placed there at the insistence of parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Under s.185D of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, if ASIO obtains a journalist information warrant:

(a)  the Director-General of Security must, as soon as practicable, give a copy of the warrant to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security; and
(b)  the Minister must, as soon as practicable, cause the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to be notified of the issuing of the warrant.

The problem is, as Crikey has so often pointed out, both George Brandis himself, and the Attorney-General’s Department, are hopelessly inept. So, have they complied with the requirements of their own act and notified JCIS about the warrants as soon as practicable? None of committee chair Andrew Hastie, Brandis’ media advisers or the Attorney-General’s Department media area responded to our repeated requests for an answer.

Call us cynical, but we think this means that no, Brandis and his department have failed to comply with their own law, because if they had complied they’d be quick to say they did. Brandis has the reverse Midas Touch, and can’t be trusted to carry out even the simplest portfolio tasks. We say he botched this too. Happy to be proven wrong.

Tips and rumours

Feb 23, 2017

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Last week, the Attorney-General’s Department revealed it had just no way of knowing whether the data stored as part of the mandatory data retention regime was actually being stored in Australia. One concerned constituent wrote to her local Senator, Eric Abetz, about this matter, and in a generalised response — where it is clear Abetz has sought advice from the department — Abetz talked about the current legislation rather than the data retention scheme, and said that not forcing companies to keep data in Australia was about “flexibility”:

“The Bill does not specify where or how data must be stored. The amendments support a risk-based approach to managing national security concerns to the telecommunications sector, while also retaining flexibility in decision making for industry.

The continually changing nature of this environment necessitates the need for industry to innovate and be flexible to support their changing needs and with minimal but sensible regulatory burden.”

ISP iiNet, back in the day when it was a company fighting for the interests of its customers rather than for TPG’s bottom line, suggested that if there were no restriction on where the data had to be stored, it would go for the cheapest option in China. At least now if there is a data breach they will have to inform us.

News

Feb 23, 2017

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Is it on? The Sniping and Undermining Tour 2017 continues in Sydney tonight, with former prime minister Tony Abbott on hand to launch a collection of articles from everybody’s favourite right-wing columnists called Making Australia Right. It includes articles from Judith Sloan on the economy, Brendan O’Neill on “political correctness”, Gary Johns on inequality, Jim Molan on defence and Roger Franklin on the Liberal Party. 

Abbott knows whatever he says at this event is likely to be widely reported as a criticism on the Turnbull government and a push to further destabilise a leader whose constant kowtowing is still not enough for the far right of his party.

Cheerleader-in-chief Andrew Bolt was already foreshadowing the event on his Sky News show last night, asking fellow panelist Rita Panahi if it was, indeed, on. Of late, News Corp’s most high-profile columnist can’t seem to make his mind up whether he wants Abbott to return or whether he should put his energy behind the Trumpian-tanned Peter Dutton. Abbott will also, helpfully, be appearing on Bolt’s show tonight after the book launch.

Henry, Henry, let’s all vote for Henry. It’s widely agreed that cultivating an active social media presence is an important part of any modern politician’s public profile. Family First WA candidate Henry Heng (a veteran of a collected five state and federal campaigns, and subject of what may be the greatest song in the history of political jingles) has certain tried his hand at this, with his homepage embedding a feed collecting all the tweets aimed at him. But Ms Tips has to ask how often he checks his Twitter feed, given that, last we checked, there is not a single positive tweet directed at Heng on his home page. Running second on Family First’s WA Senate ticket, Heng received 57 first preference votes in the last federal election, and apparently none of those people use Twitter. The feedback ranges from criticism of Bob Day’s business engagements, to Family First’s policies on marriage equality and climate change. Most terse of all, user ErinM provided a three-word, all-caps review of Heng’s perennial campaign theme: “LOL @ U”

Flexibility on data retention. Last week, the Attorney-General’s Department revealed it had just no way of knowing whether the data stored as part of the mandatory data retention regime was actually being stored in Australia. One concerned constituent wrote to her local Senator, Eric Abetz, about this matter, and in a generalised response — where it is clear Abetz has sought advice from the department — Abetz talked about the current legislation rather than the data retention scheme, and said that not forcing companies to keep data in Australia was about “flexibility”:

“The Bill does not specify where or how data must be stored. The amendments support a risk-based approach to managing national security concerns to the telecommunications sector, while also retaining flexibility in decision making for industry.

The continually changing nature of this environment necessitates the need for industry to innovate and be flexible to support their changing needs and with minimal but sensible regulatory burden.”

ISP iiNet, back in the day when it was a company fighting for the interests of its customers rather than for TPG’s bottom line, suggested that if there were no restriction on where the data had to be stored, it would go for the cheapest option in China. At least now if there is a data breach they will have to inform us.

Rorschach RET. Depending on which News Corp paper you read today, Bill Shorten is either sticking to Labor’s 50% renewable energy target in a speech today, or in the very same speech, softening the target. The Australian reports “Bill Shorten will reaffirm Labor’s 50 percent renewable energy target today”, while the Courier Mail reports “Bill Shorten will today confirm Labor has abandoned a hard-line 50 percent renewable energy target.” Ms Tips couldn’t decide whether the speech was a Rorschach test for journalists, or if Shorten’s bold new policy was Schrodinger’s Renewable Energy Target. Both 50% and not 50% at the same time.

Breitbart and Milo’s sole Australian defender. Fairfax reports this morning that Defence has joined the legions of Australian companies asking their advertising agencies to prevent their ads from appearing on extreme right “news” website Breitbart in the wake of the Milo Yiannopoulos scandal, although Milo resigned from Breitbart yesterday. Defence Force recruitment ads have been hard to avoid for the past year, so it is not so surprising they would end up on Breitbart. The department told a Senate estimates committee recently it had spent close to $28 million in advertising for Defence recruitment in just the first 10 months of last year.

While Australia advertisers are abandoning Breitbart, so too have most Milo fans. Andrew Bolt — who once politely asked Milo if he could call him fabulous — on his show on Monday said Milo had “let down the cause” for free speech advocates, but couldn’t let the matter pass without suggesting left-wing hypocrisy because of the child abuse by Hollywood director Roman Polanski — Ms Tips doubts some of the people who have an issue with Milo even know who Polanski is.

Milo did find one defender Down Under, at least, in the form of Daisy Cousens on ABC’s The Drum last night, who said (after some comments against the child abuse comments) that Milo was neither alt-right nor a toxic version of conservatism.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Companies

Feb 16, 2017

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Government officials have no idea where Australians’ metadata, compulsorily retained under its mass surveillance laws by communications providers, is being stored.

Officials of the Attorney-General’s Department made the extraordinary admission today in hearings of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is examining the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016. That bill establishes new notification requirements relating to Australian companies’ data security and requires them to “do their best to manage the risk of unauthorised access and interference to networks and facilities” as well as giving AGD and the Attorney-General additional powers of information-gathering and direction.

Committee deputy chair and former chair Anthony Byrne quizzed AGD officials about how much metadata retained under the government’s data retention laws is stored offshore by service providers. Officials said they didn’t know, despite an industry consultation process that commenced in 2012.

One of the key concerns expressed about the mass surveillance scheme — established by the Abbott government in 2015, allegedly in response to growing terrorist threats — was that the metadata of most of the population of Australia would be a highly attractive honey pot for organised crime and hackers. Data held overseas, rather than locally, was of particular concern, with a number of stakeholders such as the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Information Industry Association complaining that the data retention bill did not prevent offshore storage of Australians’ data. The government at that time declined to address those concerns, but promised a mandatory data breach notification scheme — which, after years of waiting, was only just passed this week.

[Your guide to the data retention debate: what it is and why it’s bad]

Remarkably, however, despite years of industry consultation, the Attorney-General’s Department has no idea just what amount of data is stored offshore by companies since the scheme began. AGD is currently conducting an inquiry into whether data retention — originally promised by the government to be entirely confined to terrorism and major crime — should be expanded to civil litigants, which would enable organised crime figures suing for defamation, violent partners in Family Court litigation and copyright troll firms to obtain sensitive personal information.

Byrne labelled the department’s ignorance “ridiculous” and “unacceptable”. “So we don’t have any idea of how much data is stored offshore by major telecommunications companies or any companies?” he asked. “No,” bureaucrats replied. Byrne challenged them on whether the current bill would enable AGD to work out where data was being stored, with officials, after some hasty consultation among themselves, saying that it would. 

However, the bill only requires notification of changes by services providers “that are likely to make the network or facility vulnerable to unauthorised access and interference”. That is, assuming providers admit that moving data offshore would make it vulnerable (an unlikely scenario — what company would tell its customers it’s moving their data to China and it might make it more likely to be hacked?) — it would only have prospective effect. All existing offshored data would not the subject of notification.

The admission by AGD comes not long after Fairfax revealed an Indian company was illegally purchasing Australians’ metadata sourced from Australian telcos for sale to private interests.

News

Dec 21, 2016

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Guess who’s back? As Sky News spruiked its 2017 line-up, including returning shows, one name was curiously absent. “Has Sky completely dropped [Chris] Kenny from the 2017 slate?”, a Crikey tipster asked, referring to rumours not all were thrilled with Kenny’s on-air performances.

Well, we asked, and he’s still going to be gracing our screens.

“Chris Kenny will be part of the Sky News line-up in 2017,” a spokesperson said. “His involvement will be outlined as part of the further programming announcements taking place in January.”

That doesn’t say whether his Sunday night show will return, or whether he’ll be one of Sky News’ regular rotating panelists. Still, now that Sky News is entirely News Corp owned we suppose it would have been odd — and certainly worth remarking on — if the network had dropped him entirely.

Another fun thing in Sky News’ announcement from Monday are the exact specifics of Caroline Marcus’ new role. The ex-A Current Affair reporter and News Corp columnist is joining the network as an anchor and “political reporter for the people”. Which might leave you wondering who all the other political reporters are reporting for. Sky News CEO Angelos Frangopoulos helpfully clarified that “her job will be to cover politics from anywhere but Parliament House in Canberra”.

Free Eddie. Eddie Obeid is getting used to his new cell, but he still has some supporters.

A petition addresssed to Justice Robert Beech-Jones, who sentenced Obeid to five years in prison last week, had amassed 244 signatures as Crikey neared deadline.

“Eddie has changed the course of many peoples lives including my own and the majority of people will think i am bias however i always believe there are two sides to the story,” it reads. The biggest problem, it continues, is “the media”.

“They showcase the bad extremely well — but what about the good? This media witch hunt has been going on for far too long and the personal vendetta that Kate McClymont has against Eddie has fuelled an unnecessary fire.

“The imprisonment of Eddie Obeid is a disgrace, it’s a disgrace to the NSW justice system and it’s a disgrace to the Lebanese community. A successful Lebanese politician was just to much for some and i’m calling discrimination.”

The petition goes on to list a number of scandals involving politicians where no one has been sent to jail, including Barry O’Farrell’s “wine debacle”. “Could it be that Barry was born in Australia and not Lebanon? Had he been Lebanese, Greek, Syrian or Italian, could that $3,000 bottle of wine landed him in Jail?” Of course, O’Farrell isn’t in jail because he didn’t do anything criminal in accepting a bottle of wine, though perhaps the unnamed petition creator would just see that as semantic.

Attacking the media is a common theme in responses from those signing, along with alleged racism against him and claims he should be with his family.

Brandis’ data retention Christmas gift: it’s just the wrapping. Just five days out from Christmas, the Attorney-General’s Department has dropped off its present. Or rather, not the present, just the wrapping: metadata for everyone. One of the big concerns about mandatory data retention was that the data collected for the purposes of law enforcement could, in fact, be obtained during civil court proceedings, like say trying to catch people pirating TV shows and movies. The government agreed to amend it so data retained under the law could not be accessed in civil litigation, but certain exclusions to this ban could be made via government regulation. The government has now launched a review into this with a tight deadline of January 13 asking people what data and in which circumstances the data should be available in civil proceedings. It will be interesting to see if any film studios lobby for the data to be made available to them to chase down pirates.

Incidentally, Telstra has been quick off the mark to implement a block on The Pirate Bay — one of the websites it was ordered to block last week by the Federal Court. The block appears to only be on Telstra mobile at this stage; iiNet/TPG has yet to implement the block, but they have 15 business days from the ruling. Also, the block is easy to bypass with a VPN.

BuzzFeed journalist Alice Workman also tweeted that the site isn’t blocked on the free Parliament wi-fi. Which is curious, considering legitimate websites such as gaming site Kotaku have been blocked in the past.

pirate-bay-alice-tweet

Labor Herald goes quiet. Remember the Labor Herald? Around this time last year, we reported that Labor’s own Crikey hadn’t quite met its own lofty ambitions, losing its founding editor and getting only slight support from Labor parliamentarians mere months after creation. While the Labor Herald could and was intended to work as a place for MPs to place their op-eds, more mainstream media sources are also after the same content, and often able to guarantee a wider readership of it.

The Labor Herald was even quieter in 2016 — it barely came up when we talked to Labor operatives about their digital campaigning during the election. Now it appears the Herald has gone on “hiatus”. The ABC’s Frank Keany noticed and tweeted about it this morning, and the Herald’s own Twitter account suggests it’s been offline since December 3 (how’s that for well-earned breaks). None of the articles are viewable — all previous links redirect to the page saying its offline. It’s supposedly not permanent — the page says it’s just a “short break so that we can rest up, recharge, and get ready for 2017”.

But no one would be very surprised if it didn’t come back in 2017 at all. After all, the Labor Herald was the passion project of former Labor national secretary George Wright. He jumped to BHP in late August.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Federal

Nov 17, 2016

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The biggest media story today should be Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker’s revelation that the metadata of Telstra, Vodafone and Optus customers is available for sale in India via call centre employees. It’s frightening, disturbing — and illustrates just how dangerous to Australians the government’s mass surveillance regime is.

Crikey warned repeatedly that data retention would create a vast trove of personal and highly revealing information about every Australian that would inevitably be targeted successfully by thieves. Last year we suggested such information might be hacked, but McKenzie and Baker have shown there’s no coding skill required — you just need to bribe an employee with the right access.

[The Chinese surveillance company safeguarding Australian democracy]

If it’s relatively straightforward for an Indian company to secure metadata on Australians — the three companies involved would cover nearly every adult and most teenagers in the country — then it would be equally straightforward for organised crime and state intelligence agencies of other countries to secure the same information. Almost certainly they already have. Looking for an Australian intelligence or Defence official to compromise? Looking for a witness in a criminal case? Their metadata will show you who they’ve called, when they called and how long the calls lasted, not to mention where they have been at all times the phone was on, enabling you to assemble a comprehensive picture of their medical, relationship and social circumstances.

These warnings were made at the time Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis legislated the Abbott government’s mass surveillance scheme, but were unheeded. There weren’t even any requirements imposed on industry subject to the data retention laws about the security of retained data — and certainly no restrictions on offshore storage or accessing of data. And, in truth, it would be enormously difficult for retained metadata to be stored securely anyway — there is always the “insider threat” of employees who have access to the data passing it on, no matter how well stored the data is.

[Surveillance advocates hit us with their best shot]

There’s only one truly effective way to securely protect data, and that’s not to store it at all. No one can steal what you don’t retain.

If we had a half-decent parliamentary intelligence committee, it would immediately launch an inquiry into this breach, its implications for national security and whether the data retention regime that it endorsed needs to be amended. Instead, we have a committee that’s incapable of initiating its own inquiries, and which is currently led by a junior MP with minimal parliamentary or life experience, Michael Sukkar, who seems to be too busy attacking “elites” and endorsing Donald Trump to do his committee chair job.

And remember, this is all for a mass surveillance scheme that has zero actual benefit for reducing crime or terrorism or improving crime clearance rates. The only people benefiting from data retention are the crooks like those exposed by McKenzie and Baker.