Data retention is still being considered as part of the ongoing inquiry into potential reforms of National Security Legislation. Last year, police agencies appeared before the inquiry and gave evidence that they would prefer that communications data be retained forever, rather than just the proposed two year period. And there is now a renewed push for universal on line surveillance:
Australian Federal Police national manager for hi-tech crime operations Neil Gaughan said the increasing use of internet-based communication – such as Skype, iMessage, FaceTime, and voice-over-internet phone calls – was stymieing police, who lacked the basic information needed to commence investigations. Whereas most major phone companies store call records for two years for billing purposes, data-based communication usually vanishes instantly.
Gaughan’s comments are revealing. He obscures a distinction that seems to be missing from this debate. Telecommunications companies bill customers differently depending on whether the bill relates to telephone calls or data usage. Phone billing generally requires that information relating to the duration of a call and the telephone number dialled are recorded by the billing company. Data usage rarely requires this level of detail for billing purposes – internet service providers never need to store more specific communications data. This is a vital distinction when it comes to privacy.
According to the government’s own National Privacy Principles, businesses may collect personal data only for the purpose of running their business. The collection and storage of more data than they require puts them in breach of NPP1. But a data retention regime compels the collection of data way beyond anything that ISPs require in order run their business. The outcome is the creation of huge silos of personal information that simply wouldn’t exist were it not for the fact that government mandates its collection.
To break this down: law enforcement agencies are asking for a regime to be put in place that would explicitly breach our right to privacy. This renewed push by the AFP shows how wary we should be when law enforcement agencies collude with government. The results are never good for freedom.