I appreciate there are some very passionate people in the world, and it’s great to see a strong debate about government policy, so let me add some views on what is being portrayed as a huge breach of our privacy under the Federal Government’s plans for a data retention policy which passed today through the Government’s National Security Council.

What the Government is suggesting is that all telcos and ISPs would be required to store “metadata” for an extended period (perhaps 2 years) to aid the national security team’s (ASIO) fight against terrorism.

Some would argue this means the Government keeping a record of every tweet you send, or ASIO getting access to your personal emails or web-browsing history.

Sure, let’s assume that’s entirely true. (It’s not, for a start – Tweets are public already, and the contents of email can’t be accessed without a warrant).

Are we to think that there will be Federal Police or ASIO officers typing names into a computer and reading emails?  Or even viewing this “metadata” which we hear too much about.  Really? Nope.

Today, the NSW Police have information on me – my address, police history, licence and registration information at the very least.  Do you think it’s legal for an officer to just type in my name and get that info?  Nope.  They get into some serious trouble if they access the “COPS” system without reason.

Today, if the authorities have a warrant – they can request almost anything from your ISP, or Twitter, or Facebook.  What’s stored might not satisfy them – and perhaps that’s where we need to put consideration into why this is going on.

Lets say some radical crazy person is sending emails to and fro with mates about possible targets for crime – and I’m not talking where to steal Mars Bars. I’m talking terrorism.

Don’t we want our Federal agencies to be able to dig into that person and do some cross checking and confirmation of the threat that person might pose to our national security? Hell yeah!

Do you really think the Feds are going to pull up your details and find any good reason to dig any deeper, request more information from an ISP and piece together (slowly) your browsing history and contact relationships?  Not a chance.

Our law enforcement struggle to resource the most simple of cases today, they don’t have time to waste on digging for fun.  If a lead goes no-where it’s not going to follow through.

If I happen to have been communicating – knowingly or otherwise – with a potential terrorist – let’s say they are following me on Twitter, lets say they called me on the radio or via my podcast one day and I had a conversation with them.

I’m ok with Government agencies digging deeper – they’ll soon find that was coincidental contact and that I pose no risk.

So what’s the actual problem here?

It’s a big bad thing called Privacy.

If you’re chatting away on Twitter, if you’ve got a Facebook account, if you shop at Supermarkets and pay any way other than cash – you’re private details are already wide wide open.

Companies are trawling twitter randomly and in targeted ways to put people into buckets – categorising users for potential cross database marketing with their own internal customer data.

Facebook knows more about you than you would ever care to think – even if your security settings are locked down – your friends, the pages you like, all that info is accessible to law enforcement already – if they have valid reasons.

And supermarkets – please – if you don’t know by now how huge companies are taking data, be it anonymous or personalised about your shopping, travel, driving, and other expense habits – just by taking a list of all the things you buy (on your Credit or Debit card, let alone linked to rewards cards) where you buy them or when they buy them – you’re delusional.

Caltex would have a pretty clear picture of someone who stops at the Chatswood servo several times a week (ok, almost daily) and buys a Coke and a Mars bar.  They’re probably wondering why I switched from a Coke and Twirl a few months ago – but that’s an issue for Cadbury – not me.

Internet providers and Telcos argue there will be a great expense for them to retain all this data.  Probably quite right.  But if you really think the cost of that retention will have significant impact on user charges, I think you are wrong – that’s just my opinion. But if anyone is well placed to scale their data storage capabilities, it’s the people who do data storage for business.  They’re already storing it, it’s a matter of how long they store it for now.  That’s the issue, and that’s the price we need to clarify and understand, and accept or shop around.

I’m well aware that people on “my side of this debate” are often heard to say “I’ve got nothing to hide, so why worry” – but seriously – what the hell have you got to hide? And how important do you think you are that anyone at any level of Government gives a rats’ what you’re doing on the internet.

I for one want to live in a world where my kids can be as safe as we can possibly make it.  If the Federal Authorities can stop one crime – as extreme or as small as it might be, then I’m all for it – and if these laws aid them in that fight – bring it on.

We need to make things easier for Law Enforcement, not harder.

We live in a free country, and we practice freedom of speech.  However, we still have laws – there are things that it’s not legal to do in this country, we need to know that the people who commit those crimes can be brought to justice, and the people planning acts of terrorism are found before they have the chance to carry them out.

It’s the same with piracy and censorship.  What on earth makes people think that just because it’s on the internet we shouldn’t have the same laws and punishment for theft of content or illicit content that have existed in our society for decades.

Let’s get real people – breathe – and let’s debate some bigger issues – Asylum seekers? Budget Deficit?  Wait no – don’t go there – what about this one – Android vs Apple?  No wait – actually, as you were.


Feature Image: gabitogol