“You might catch the stupid ones.” Scott Ludlam slams data retention measures

Scott Ludlam

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Scott Ludlam

Jacinta Payne, Staff reporter

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Federal Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has told Edith Cowan University students that data retention is only likely to catch stupid criminals and terrorists due to the ease with which it can be circumvented.

The metadata measures are an amendment to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, and would force internet service providers to store users metadata for two years.

The data that would be stored includes the timing of phone calls, emails and GPS locations, however it excludes the content of messages. Data could  be used by the police and intelligence agencies, after an application to the company. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment  (Data Retention) Bill 2014 was today passed in the lower house, with Labor giving their support.

Mr Ludlam said the measures were an intrusion in privacy as well as being largely useless; there are many legal ways to avoid the proposed data retention, which starts with simply using Gmail over your internet service provider email or public wifi connection.

Webmail services, and messaging apps like Wickr and Whatsapp, can skirt around data retention because these services are not on Australian soil and not subject to the proposed amendment.

A person who uses Gmail, Whatsapp or a public internet connection is well on their way to completely circumventing the proposed data retention.

Australia’s second largest Internet Service Provider iiNet estimated last year that the volume of information being retained would cost them upwards of $130 million a year, with this cost likely to be passed onto customers.

Smaller companies will likely struggle to bear the costs and, according to Mr Ludlam, may turn to offshore cloud services.

No matter where the data is stored, it will prove a large temptation for hackers, and steps must be taken to protect the privacy of Australian citizens.

If offshore cloud services are used, this may compromise security and make it easier for hackers to access, among other issues.

Philip Branch, Acting Director of Swinburne University’s Centre for Advanced Internet Architectures, said that the big problem with metadata lay in defining the difference between ‘metadata’ and ‘data’.

“In the internet there is really no such thing as metadata, you’re really just talking about data. There’s different data of different levels of sensitivity,” he said.

“The distinction between ‘data’ and ‘metadata’ made sense in telephony but it really doesn’t make a lot of sense in the internet environment.”

Dr Branch also said it would be easier to look at the different levels of sensitivity in data, for example the websites you visit and people you email are more sensitive than your daily IP address.

Mr Ludlam and Dr Branch both agree that there should be a restriction on what data can be easily accessed, with more sensitive data requiring warrants or other more stringent requirements for access.

Mr Ludlam said warrants shouldn’t be required for the “digital equivalent of looking someone up in the phone book.”

Once the cost of the stored metadata is passed onto consumers, and with the safety of their data in question, he believed it highly likely many Australian citizens would turn to offshore businesses in an effort to protect themselves.


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