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Roxon edges away, Conroy doubles down

In Saturday’s papers, the Attorney General Nicola Roxon suggested that the case for her own department’s data retention and internet surveillance laws had not been made. She is absolutely right. But that relatively positive development was somewhat undermined by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s passionate defence of more internet regulation on Meet the Press on the same day. (You can watch the video here, and the transcript is here.)

Followers of earlier internet freedom debates will recall that Conroy’s advocacy of the internet filter in 2007 and 2008 left no moral panic and strawman unturned. He’s taking the same strategy on data retention policies.

First, the moral panic. “Organised crime around the world has taken up the benefits of the internet.” Yet there is much less to “cybercrime” than the panic merchants would have us think – I examined the origins of those big, terrifying cybercrime statistics in the Sunday Age mid-last year.

Second, the strawman. In Conroy’s view, opponents of these new security proposals believe that the “internet should be completely unregulated”, and that they want to “abandon all law” when we go online. This is simply nonsense, and he surely knows it. Any activity online is governed by very real national laws. (An excellent book on the complex interaction between an international network and local law is Who Rules the Net?: Internet Governance and Jurisdiction from 2003.) Conroy clearly imagines his government’s critics to be nothing more than teenaged cyber-utopians. But his government’s proposal is not to introduce existing law to an online world, but to massively increase the power and extent of those laws.

The Attorney General’s department paper proposing the data retention laws was vague. If the best argument for them is the sort of distraction and hyperbole Conroy presented on Saturday, then their reality may be worse than we think.

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