Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Metadata retention a major breach of privacy

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Abbott government has a plan to force telecommunication companies to store the internet and phone logs of customers for up to two years. Law-enforcement and spy agencies would be provided with warrantless access to the information.

By Tim Tran, Socialist Party

The policy was announced as part of a tranche of new anti-terrorism laws and is an attempt to push through a proposal that was originally made by the Labor government in 2012.

This mandatory data retention scheme would collect sensitive information such as the two numbers that make a phone call and the location of the parties involved. This would also apply to online interactions meaning the tracking of locations and identity can be made possible without a lawful warrant.

While the government uses terms like “metadata” in an attempt to assure people that the content of the phone conversations, messages, emails and websites won’t be included, the peripheral data collected can still reveal an immense amount about people’s private lives.

Spy agencies already have access to this type of data under existing laws. The new laws however would make it easier for them to access this information with far less oversight. This increases the potential for abuse, leaks and privacy breaches.

The government claims data retention is a necessary tool to “protect national security” against serious crimes and terrorism. The truth is data retention has already proven to be ineffective in terms of law enforcement in other countries.

The government in Denmark said in June that it will repeal its “session logging”, or data retention, law. Telecommunications operators in Sweden simply stopped collecting the data because it has been unusable to fight crimes. The scheme is also expensive costing millions of dollars to collect and store the data. These costs will inevitably be passed on to consumers from the internet service providers.

Despite all this the Abbott government is pushing ahead with attempts to increase surveillance measures. These measures are not only a major breach of privacy, but they undermine our democratic rights.

While the government has used ‘terrorism’ as a pretext, their real motivation for implementing the laws is the increasing need to keep a check on people as capitalism moves into a more unstable period.

The world economy is fraught with problems. Even here in Australia the government is preparing to implement a series of unpopular budget measures over the decade. They are expecting resistance to those measures and the emergence of political forces that will want to challenge big business dominance.

Increasingly capitalist governments will attempt to rely on a climate of fear, intimidation, and the repression of basic democratic rights to defend their unjust system.

As has been the case with other repressive laws, metadata retention will inevitably be used against all sorts of political activists and organisations. Revelations from whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald have shown that these types of ‘security’ programs are primarily used to defend the profit driven system and aid the crackdown on domestic resistance.

Socialists oppose breaches of privacy and the winding back of democratic rights. We explain that as long as capitalism remains in place all sorts of undemocratic measures will be used to preserve it. Only a system based on the interests of the majority would eliminate the need for surveillance and repression.

This is why side by side with defending democratic rights we fight for a democratic socialist society.


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