Privacy Op-ed

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Privacy Op-ed

The accusations against the US were followed by similar reports from around the world that Democratic governments were surveilling the private communication of their citizens (Snowden 2015). Some of the countries indicted in these reports included Australia. Dempster 2015).Three years ago journalists came together to condemn state surveillance of private communications around the world (Snowden 2015). This outcry was amid accusations that the US National Security Agency had been recording nearly every phone call made in the United States (

Two years later, pressure from the journalists and the public saw the NSA’s call recording program declared illegal (Snowden 2015). Congress also condemned the program amid accusation that the intrusive program had not been able to stop any single terrorist attack. Journalists hailed the move as the power of an informed public. In the US, the end of mass surveillance under the Patriot Act was a historic victory for citizens around the world (Tucker 2015). In 2013, the European Courts of Justice made similar rulings which outlawed surveillance on private communication between citizens. Later, the United Nations declared that surveillance of citizen’s private lives is a violation of human rights (Snowden 2015). In Brazil citizens rallied for laws to protect privacy and an Internet Bill of Rights was created which among other things protected citizens rights to privacy.

. The partnership between government agencies and private online companies allow for billions of personal communications to be intercepted. Governments around the world continue to intercept and monitor metadata on the internet that allow the private lives of citizens to be tracked around the world (Dempster 2015). Other government agencies build ‘back doors’ into internet sites that fundamentally weaken the privacy of internet sites (Tucker 2015). Recent changes to the Australian Privacy reflects this increasing intrusion of governments into the digital privacy of individuals. 2015)However, the right to privacy has increasingly come under threat around the world as governments use loopholes, and new laws to curtail the right to privacy. The NSA has enlisted some of the world’s most popular online services as partners in their surveillance programs(Snowden

.  (Cth) (TIAA) recentlyTelecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979Australian spymaster like their peers in France, Canada and USA have continued to use the law to intrude into private lives (Tucker 2015). Often the need to monitor private lives is justified by the claim that it can help in detecting terrorist attacks. However, there is little evidence that mass surveillance of citizens private lives helps in preventing attacks. Similar reasoning was applied to pass amendments to the

The 2015 amendments of the TIAA allowed at least 21 government agencies to surveil and monitor private communication. The current section 187AA of TIAA requires Australian ISPs and Telcos to retain data logs for landline voice, mobile, text messages, download volumes, location information and emails. This information is known as metadata and allows Telcos and ISPs to retain the digital footprints of citizens.

Privacy Op-ed

Under section 110A of the TiAA alllow law enforcement, and other Government agencies to access telephone and internet metadata anytime they wish. The spy agencies are not also required to have warranties to access the metadata (Tucker 2015). The privacy law seems overzealous as breaches of section 187A by Telcos and ISPs attract a penalty of $ 2 million. Unfortunately, the TIAA does not provide any safeguard to ensure the limitation to privacy protection are not abused. The law only requires that ISPs and Telcos keep a secret list of persons seeking access to the stored information (Huston 2015). The only semblance of control that offers hope for citizens is the retrospective oversight by the Commonwealth Ombudsman provided by Chapter 4 of the TIAA. In the unlikely event a citizen is able to prove that an agency has been looking at their stored metadata, criminal penalties apply (Dempster 2015). Persons revealing metadata about a person illegally risk a two-year jail term (Huston 2015).

Unfortunately, the consequences of storing metadata have grave privacy implications for Australians. In a short time period, metadata can expose private sms, email, fixed and mobile lines call patterns, daily habits, work and hobbies. Metadata acts as a key to you personal communication patterns, monetized transcriptions, downloads and commercial transactions (Dempster 2015). By requiring ISPs and Telcos to store Metadata, privacy is compromised for all these aspects of you life.

Security, law enforcement and intelligence access to metadata should never override the privacy concern of citizens. However, Governments have continued to argue that access to metadata is vital for national security (Huston 2015). They argue that greater surveillance can help countries fight the threat of jihadi recruitment, and geopolitical tensions. But in Australia, the biggest threat of terrorism comes from random acts of terror and lone wolf terrorism (Leonard 2015). There is no need for a law that significantly compromises the privacy of Australians.

In contrast, other countries that have more serious and urgent privacy concerns restrict storage and access to personal metadata. In the US, the Freedom Act does not allow unrestricted access to Metadata even for security reasons (Huston 2015). Israel does not also require mandatory storage of metadata by its Telcos and ISPs. Considering these facts Australia’s response to the security threat is disproportionate and unwarranted.

Australia seems to be walking in the footsteps of the autocratic Chinese government. China has recently expanded its data retention laws as part of its campaign to fight political dissident (Dempster 2015). Government agencies in China have wide ranging powers to requests for information from ISPs and Telcos. Chinese spy agencies can even request the encryption software used by ISPs and Telcos.

Law enforcement agencies have put up good arguments for increasing access to metadata. Metadata is a rich source of information which can be of great assistance in criminal investigations (Huston 2015). Metadata has been used as evidence in recent cases against motorcycle gangs, illicit drugs dealers, paedophiles, fraud and corruption (Dempster 2015). The Independent Commission Against Corruption has illustrated how effective the use of Metadata is as a crime fighting mechanism. However, the commission was forced to justify the use of Metadata in the corruption investigation through evidentiary leads. The Australian Attorney Generals office argues strongly for greater access to metadata by government agencies. The Office recently asserted that metadata is a vital crime fighting tool for counterespionage, organized crime, counter terrorism, child exploitation, cyber security and other serious crimes.

Australia does not need a policy that requires mandatory retention of metadata and easy access by law enforcement and spy agencies. Other countries with more serious and urgent security concerns do not have similar laws. This clearly indicates that the privacy violating law is unnecessary and an excessive response to the security challenge facing the country. The mandatory metadata retention policy needs to be reviewed immediately as it has led to unprecedented privacy exposure for Australians (Dempster 2015). Under, the Australia Mandatory metadata retention policy, individuals leave a two-year digital trial that reveal a lot about their private lives. This law also lays the foundation for wiretapping and digital surveillance warranties. Evidence obtained by law enforcement agencies on suspicious digital trials through metadata investigation can be used as evidence to obtain orders for wire taps (Saree 2015). Metadata retention and access has undoubtedly created new ways for Australian government agencies to lawfully violate the privacy of citizens. Nowadays, Australians cannot communicate without the fear that their private communication is being monitored and stored. Citizens must step forward and demand for a legal environment where the government respects the absolute right of its citizens to privacy. Democratic Australia should be in the front line of ensuring that the privacy rights of their citizens are not violated. Unfortunately, Australia has taken a Metadata policy stance that closely resembles autocratic China’s approach.


Dempster, Q 2015. Data retention and the end of Australians’ digital privacy, Sydney Morning Herald, August 29, accessed 16th September 2016,

Huston, G., 2015. Metadata Retention and the Internet. Australian Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy, 3(1).

Leonard, P., 2015, June. Mandatory internet data retention in Australia-looking the horse in the mouth after it has bolted-May 2015. In Intellectual Property Forum: journal of the Intellectual and Industrial Property Society of Australia and New Zealand (No. 101, p. 43). Intellectual and Industrial Property Society of Australia and New Zealand Inc

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth) (TIAA)

Sarre, R., 2015. Metadata retention: A review of the policy implications for Australians. CRIME, JUSTICE AND SOCIAL DEMOCRACY: PROCEEDINGS OF THE 3RD, p.9.

Snowden, E, 2015. Edward Snowden: The World Says No to Surveillance, New York Times, June 4,

Tucker, H 2015. New data retention laws begin today, this is what you need to know, News Australia, October 13, , accessed 16th September 2016,