Most new laws wash by people, unconcerned. But proposed data retention laws will gobble up your private life and expose it to the government. Be warned, Eva Cripps says.

You should care about Creeper Laws

 By Eva Cripps*

The right to privacy is taken for granted by many. Australians assume they can conduct their daily ablutions in peace. They can leave their homes and travel unimpeded to any destination of choice. People can think what they wish to think and daydream to their hearts content, safe in the knowledge that their innermost musings will remain protected in their minds.

There is no doubt that most Australians would be horrified at the thought of a creeper standing outside their home, making a note of where they go, what they do, who they speak with and what they think.

Yet for some reason, many Australians are ambivalent about the Federal Government’s proposed laws which give the government, law enforcement agencies and other organisations unfettered access to a mass of information – the electronic footprint of every person in Australia.

Metadata retention.   The name itself sounds boring. And nerdy. And something for the techno-dudes to worry about. But it is something every Australian should care about.

Mandatory metadata retention.   What the Federal Attorney-General, George Brandis proposes is the compulsory keeping of electronic information for every person who uses any type of e-device, for two years.

Like the vast majority of Australians, Brandis does not know what metadata is. And neither do most politicians asked to vote on such an important matter. The Australian Labor Party, who selectively decries human rights violations when it suits, looks set to support Brandis’s laws.

For most people who are content as long as their mobile phone has reception, their internet is connected, and other electronic things are doing whatever they’re meant to be doing, the whole metadata matter is too complex to bother with.

So why should Australians care?

Senator Scott Ludlam has put together a handy video explaining what metadata is. The introduction is reminiscent of the start of a crime movie. But it’s not somebody else’s crime movie: This Is (to be) Your Life.

It’s the introduction to Brandis’s Creeper Laws.

“Imagine a guy whose name you don’t know, who you’ve never met, who silently follows you around listening to your conversations. He was there yesterday; he was there all day today; he’ll be there all day again tomorrow. He makes a note of everyone who you meet, every conversation, everything you exchange no matter how intimate the contact. You wouldn’t stand being followed around by a creeper like that in real life…”

Despite the technical name, it is easy to understand just what information Brandis wants to retain. It is the entire digital life of every person: your precise location, entire social network, your contacts, what you buy, what web pages you visit, what information you look up on the internet.

If you have a smart phone, every foot you step with your mobile in your hand can be tracked, from the living room, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, to the mailbox. That late-night drive with your partner to the secluded spot for a little bit of loving will be saved for Brandis’s viewing pleasure. He will know when you ring your mother, text your spouse or send a photo to your kids.

It allows police and security agencies and anyone else the government decides free access to your information, to map out a person’s entire life.

Mandatory metadata retention amounts to mass surveillance of the entire Australian population.

Laws that trample

The standard argument in support of the laws is the same every time a government attempts to enact laws that trample all over the rights of its citizens.

 If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

In the case of metadata retention, this is absurdly simplistic.

Over the past decade, both Federal and State governments have systematically eroded the basic freedoms of ordinary Australians: anti-terror laws, anti-bikie laws (except the legislation doesn’t use the word ‘bikie’), consorting laws, mandatory sentencing, reversal of the presumptions of innocence, removal of the right to silence, prosecution of whistle-blowers. And like many travesties, until someone is personally impacted, the Australian way is to not really give a damn.

Law enforcement agencies love the idea of metadata retention. The present laws relating to electronic information require the police to obtain a warrant – and in doing so, they must justify to a judge the reasons for accessing the personal data of a suspect. In support of the laws, police and security agents will point to the many cases where metadata was crucial to the prosecution; organised crime offences like drug dealing, drug smuggling, terrorist acts, any crime that requires ‘intent’.

But mandatory metadata retention won’t just apply to criminals. It will apply to everyone. There will be no need for a warrant. No need for justification. The existing laws, sufficient to catch crooks until now, will be redundant. All the information the police and security agencies will ever need will be right there. And all the information they don’t need, and shouldn’t have, will be right there too.

Law-abiding and perfectly innocent Australians will lose their right to privacy. And if they happen to have a middle-Eastern name, or to travel frequently abroad to places of interest, or have friends or family who come to the attention of the government or police, their private lives will be trawled through, in minute detail, just on the off-chance they are engaging in or planning some kind of criminal activity. Guilty until proven innocent is the new catchphrase.

The metadata laws will be hugely appreciated by the state police, particularly those enforcing anti-association and consorting laws. No longer will they have to form some kind of suspicion that a couple of mates are illegally hanging out. Without the need for justification or approval from an independent person, the police can target a couple of socially undesirables, track their online networks and arrest them. Minorities will almost certainly be targeted, because of who they are, not because of any personal propensity to engage in terrorist crime or be a threat to security. And no doubt the police will see this as a fantastic way to clear the streets of members and associates of one-percent motorcycle clubs.

cellWhere you go, who you contact, what you search for and buy on the internet, will no longer be private. Law-abiding and innocent Australians will be treated the same as those currently suspected of engaging in serious criminal activities.

If you have an interest in hunting, travel and aeroplanes, and spend hours late at night browsing weapon modification, while also keeping an eye on a flight-tracker and planning your next overseas trip, prepare to have your privacy violated.

If your sister, brother, uncle, daughter, neighbour or casual Facebook friend spends too much time researching banned substances while ordering random ingredients on the internet, you too might come to attention…for what they do, or think.

And while the police probably won’t care what porn sites you visit, or sex lines you’ve rung, if they wanted to find out your fetishes, just out of curiosity, it would no doubt all be there.

But if, as a law-abiding Australian, you believe there will be no questions asked about any of your digital information, the authorities will find nothing questionable in your electronic data, nothing can be taken out of context or manipulated and you have absolutely nothing to hide, just imagine that creeper, standing outside your home, taking notes on your every movement.

No doubt, those who truly believe they have nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide will be first in line when Brandis announces the next component of his anti-terror and security laws – mandatory electronic ankle tracking devices.

…and soon Brandis Babies will be electronically chipped at birth, like animals, so they can be government-tracked and surveilled from cradle to grave.

Cripps* Eva Cripps is a freelance writer and advocate for civil liberties and justice. She has a Law degree with first class honours, and is a member of Civil Liberties Australia.

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2 Comments

  1. Labor had a great chance to stand apart from the Conservatives to reject the legislation; to embrace liberty and restore respect for individual privacy. Such a rejection would have given Labor a ‘rock star’ status on the political stage, and set itself apart. Even some Green votes may have flown its way.

    Instead it complied and chose to slink into the shadows and consort with the tough guys. Two peas in a pod.

    Greg

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