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Citizens, not suspects

The Federal Government has introduced radical changes to Australia's surveillance and intelligence laws.

Of course authorities should be given the powers they need to protect us, but what's being considered goes much further than that.

Attorney-General Brandis' mandatory data retention scheme would require telecommunication companies and Internet service providers (ISPs) to store information, or "metadata", about every Australian's phone calls and internet usage for two years.

Metadata can reveal a far more detailed picture of you than Mr Brandis would care to admit. This kind of information might seem fairly harmless, but it can all be used to provide context about things you'd prefer to keep private.

Demand to be treated like a citizen, not a suspect.

Sign the petition calling on the Federal Government to drop its proposed mandatory data retention regime.


The Government is proposing laws that would require telecommunications companies and internet service providers to retain information about a citizen's telecommunications and online usage for at least two years.
Good question, it would seem even the Attorney-General George Brandis is a bit stumped by this one. Watch him try to explain it.

For web browsing, "content" is anything user generated, eg: typing in a URL, clicking through to links or a Google search.

"Metadata" is information the system automatically puts in around the user-generated content, eg: IP addresses, number of visits to a site and length of time on a page.

An IP address viewed in the metadata would show a person visited a certain website, but would not show what specific pages they visited there, if they wrote anything there or viewed videos.

Currently, authorities can request access to metadata from telcos and ISPs, but they require a warrant for access to "content".

This is metadata as defined by the government's proposed legislation.

Source: ABC News
Yes, telcos have traditionally retained phone records for billing purposes, but they usually don't store it beyond the billing cycle, given the costs of storing so much data.

Also, metadata goes much further beyond who you called and for how long. Tony Abbott and George Brandis have likened the proposed regime to the seemingly innocuous analogy of reading the details on an envelope (the metadata), but not the letter itself (the content). But, in reality, the metadata of a phonecall can reveal far more, than what was actually said during the call. As high-profile US whistleblower Edward Snowden puts it:

"What you care about is the metadata, because metadata does not lie. People lie on phone calls when they're involved in real criminal activity. They use code words, they talk around it. You can't trust what you're hearing, but you can trust the metadata. That's the reason metadata's often more intrusive."
Retaining metadata means agencies can accumulate a record of everyone you have called, everyone they have called, how long you spoke for, the order of the calls, and where you were when you made the call, to build a profile that says far more about you than any solitary overheard phone call or email.

It can reveal not just straightforward details such as your friends and acquaintances, but also if you have medical issues, your financial interests, what you're buying, if you're having an affair or ended a relationship. Combined with other publicly available information, having a full set of metadata on an individual will tell you far more than much of their content data ever will.

The General Counsel for the United States National Security Agency has publicly stated, "metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody's life. If you have enough metadata, you don't really need content". According to the former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, the US kills people based on metadata.
Yes actually, the laws being proposed by the Government are very similar a data retention scheme that was eventually found to be "invalid" by the European Court of Justice, which said:

"... by requiring the retention of those data and by allowing the competent national authorities to access those data, the directive interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data."
Australia has a relatively good record when it comes to surveilling and its citizens, however in the US there have been incidents of stalking, sharing of intimate photos and listening in on intimate conversations, within the National Security Agency.

Australia's record certainly isn't squeaky clean though, ASIO, the AFP and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service were recently thrust into the spotlight over ASIS's bugging of the East Timorese cabinet in 2004. Not to mention ASIO's efforts to intimidate and gag the whistleblower who revealed it late in 2013.

Unlike normal government departments, intelligence agencies lack public oversight, and can use national security as a justification to avoid media scrutiny. This lack of oversight means any wrongdoings, such as corruption, are far less likely to be revealed than in normal government agencies. Public transparency is one of the key motivations for public servants to behave appropriately, but it just doesn't exist for agencies engaged in surveillance.
This is about being given the right to decide what information you're happy to share and what information you'd prefer to keep private. The proposed data retention regime will take away that choice.
Australia already has systems in place to help catch bad guys. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act specifies the circumstances in which interception of customer communications is lawful and when it is permitted for telecommunications companies to disclose communications data.

There is little evidence to suggest surveilling ordinary Australians helps prevent criminal activity.
True, but people such as whistleblowers, journalists, politicians, non-government groups and activists will be subject to surveillance by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, despite not having "done anything" other than perhaps revealing wrongdoing by governments and companies, and protesting against it.

The data retention regime will change people's behaviour, in a way that threatens core processes of democracy like whistleblowing and political scrutiny. People will begin to self-censor themselves for fear that someone is watching them.

Also, law enforcement and intelligence agencies aren't the only groups who have access to metadata. In Australia, bodies as diverse as local councils, the RSPCA and health bodies can obtain telephone metadata on citizens without a warrant.
Terrorism is a very real threat, but it is also wildly overhyped. About three times more Australians have died falling out of bed since 2001 than have died at the hands of terrorists. As a threat to the health and lives of western citizens, terrorism is negligible compared to deaths caused by poor infrastructure, bad health policies, unsafe workplaces or poverty.

The truth is, doing things in the name of preventing terrorism relies on our emotional fear of attacks, and is more about making us feel safe, than actually keeping us safe.


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We call on the Federal Government to drop its proposed mandatory, indiscriminate data retention regime, and to treat ordinary, law-abiding Australians as citizens, not suspects.

In taking action, I agree to GetUp's Privacy Policy.