Data retention policy treats all Australians as potential criminals

Data retention policy treats all Australians as potential criminals

Senator Scott Ludlam asks “if you don’t trust us to tell us what it is you are doing, why should we trust you to have all this data in the first place?”

The Attorney-General (A-G) department’s proposed data retention plans would make all Australians crime suspects, Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam, said at a Senate Committee enquiry.

The controversial data retention plan was ousted in June and would require all ISPs to log and keep every user’s Web browsing history information.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) highlighted the importance of data retention in various investigations, particularly in child pornography cases.

AFP assistant commissioner, Neil Gaughan, described how retention of IP addresses by ISPs helped in the agency’s Operation Centurion in 2008 which lead to the execution of 340 search warrants, 140 arrests and 400,000 child pornography images seized. The investigation also saved four children that were at risk of child abuse, he said.

“Without the metadata being retained, the AFP cannot do those types of investigations because we won’t have that information to backtrack on,” Gaughan said. The data would also aid murder investigations handled by State and Territory agencies, he added.

While Senator Ludlam commended the AFP for providing a practical example of how retained data would aid investigations, he had concerns over how the policy would turn every Australian into a crime suspect.

“From a law enforcement perspective, we would all be walking around with video cameras attached to ourselves,” he said. “Is anybody willing to acknowledge there are very important privacy implications in effectively treating the entire Australian population as suspects in unknown or unprosecuted offences just in case any one of us at any given time turns out to be a child abuser?”

The Senator was also troubled by the Attorney-General department's lack of engagement with civil libertarian and privacy organisations during the data retention consultation process.

The A-G department representative, Catherine Smith, said the department had consulted with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and did not approach organisations beyond the AFP and telecommunications industry because the data retention proposal is still a work in progress.

Senator Ludlam pointed out the Privacy Commissioner was less than complimentary of the data retention plan.

“It was more uncommitted rather than uncomplimentary,” A-G department representative, Wendy Kelly, said. “We were consulting to come forward with a proposal we had not yet developed. To take something up to a broad range of people before we had a view would be inappropriate.”

In regards to the heavily redacted consultation papers obtained through a Sydney Morning Herald Freedom of Information Request, Senator Ludlam criticised A-G department for creating a shroud of secrecy over the issue.

At the time, the department made a statement claiming the redactions were made to to prevent “premature unnecessary debate”.

“In good faith, rumours flourish in a vacuum and you have created a vacuum,” Senator Ludlam said. “That is why people are asking ‘Well, what is this all about? It sounds important’.

“If you don’t trust us to tell us what it is you are doing, why should we trust you to have all this data in the first place?”

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