Sunday 1 August 2010

Is the Government spying on your internet usage?

Debate over internet censorship has not ranked a number one election issue with the mainstream media, despite widespread community concern over the government's plans for a 'mandatory filter'.

Now a new storm has erupted over another new Government plan - this one developed within the Federal Attorney General's Department - to monitor the internet usage of all Australians. It has been developed in considerable secrecy, which the Gillard Government has said is necessary to avoid "premature and unnecessary debate". Syd Walker suggests the community as a whole has a right to decide if concerns are "premature and unnecessary"...
  • Is the Gillard Government really planning to force Australian ISPs to retain logs detailing individual Internet usage for several years?

    It sounds too surreal to be true.

    Yet this latest push by a Government dragging Australia fast towards Orwellian hell has been a matter of public knowledge – and some debate – for a while. So far, official denials have not been convincing.

    Rumours first surfaced months ago of secret meetings convened by the Attorney General’s Department, in which ISPs were consulted about ways to monitor internet usage.

    In June, the story made headlines, at least in Australia’s IT media. The ripple of coverage began on June 11th with Ben Grubb’s article in Govt wants ISPs to record browsing history. There was a follow-up article in Zdnet by Renai LeMay a few days later: Govt denies it wants web history records. News Corps’ Brett Winterford was considerably more reassuring – see Call for calm over data retention talks – although it’s interesting to note an acerbic debate with Ben Grubb in comments below that article.

    By the end of June, Liz Tay was reporting that the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts has been given a reference to investigate the adequacy of Australian online privacy protections: see Feds launch online privacy inquiry.

    In similar fashion to the way the debate over Internet censorship (the ‘filter’) has unfolded, it’s the Greens who’ve led efforts in the Federal Parliament to open up the topic for public debate. Greens Senator Scott Ludlum has emerged once again as the leading parliamentary champion of online rights – this time in relation to privacy. He said in June “It is time the Parliament took a proper look at the degree to which the privacy of Australians online is being eroded by governments and corporations alike,” Ludlam said. “Importantly, it’s [the inquiry] going to allow us to have a proper look at Government plans to compel ISPs to collect the web browsing history of all Australians, for purposes which are not at all clear.”

    A general election has since been called. Presumably, the Senate Standing Committee’s inquiry will carry over into the next Parliament.

    This potentially explosive story dropped out of the headlines again – until Ben Grubb got a reply a few days ago from the Government to a Freedom of Information request.
    Having tried to obtain a copy of the top-secret document used in discussions with the IT industry via FoI, the Sydney Morning Herald received a document with no less than nine tenths of the content erased! (see No Minister: 90% of web snoop document censored to stop ‘premature unnecessary debate’)

    The issue was discussed this morning on Channel 7 breakfast news (see the video below).
    Colin Jacobs of Electronic Frontiers Australia and Seamas Byrne of both did an excellent job outlining privacy concerns about this mind-boggling case of authoritarian over-reach, in an Australia where civil liberties are fast becoming an endangered species.

  • See the highly-censored document (PDF, 3.60MB)
  • See government reasons for censoring it (PDF, 3.23MB)


Jill said...

Family first debated the sex party candidate on sunrise show on 7 this morning.
With family first candidate stating clearly "marriage is between a man and a woman" not because homosexuals "choose a lifestyle choice" stuff me dead I did not wake up one morning and think my classmate at school looks like a nice girl and I WANT TO TONGUE KISS HER!
We are born that way you fool !
Yodie bazzke answer the question as you stood as ff only a few weeks ago .
What are your views on same sex marriage and homosexuality if you are not just hiding until the election day .

iiNet said...

iiNet (internet service provider) said it was briefed in late 2009 about a Federal Government proposal which could potentially see telcos required to keep records of web browsing history, telephone calls and emails of their users.

iiNet spokesperson Tim Grau said that a low-level staff member was briefed about the proposal late last year. "We weren't asked to comment on it, and haven't heard from them since," he said. The internet service provider was broadly against the proposal.

"Our view that the current legislative regime deals with issues in relation to national security and law enforcement and individual customer's privacy in an appropriate way and the balance is right," they said.

Industry representative body the Communications Alliance this afternoon confirmed it had known since March about the proposal. "Yes, we had some preliminary discussions with the government — indeed, the Attorney-General's department, about the concept of a data retention regime," said Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton in an interview this afternoon, noting the discussions took place in March.

The Communications Alliance represents virtually every major telco in Australia — including but not limited to industry titans Telstra and Optus — as well as a wide tranche of other groups in the telecommunications industry such as networking giants Ericsson and Cisco and even law firms like Clayton Utz.

The policy being considered by the Attorney General's Department would see a similar scheme implemented to the European Directive on Data Retention, which requires ISPs to record information on phone calls and emails, including from whom they were sent and from whom, the time and date and so on.

ISP industry sources have also flagged the potential for the new regime to require ISPs to record a user's complete web browsing history.

Stanton said his group would be against such a policy. "In our communications with the government to date, we've yet to see a justification for a regime of that type," he said.

"If the government wanted to move in the direction of a data retention regime, clearly the sorts of issues that would need to be discussed would include the data set — exactly what data would need to be retained under the policy — for how long, and who would bear the cost of that.

Stanton refused to comment separately on whether the discussions had included the specific idea of maintaining data on every email sent in Australia, every phone call or every web address visited.

Geordie Guy, vice-chair of digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia said it was "really quite surprising" that organisations like the Communications Alliance and the Internet Industry Association knew about the proposal and didn't disclose it.

"It would lead me to believe that the industry at the moment is very very careful about a minister who's near enough gone rogue," he said, referring to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

"The only logical reason I can think of why they wouldn't be critical of the department, is that being critical of the department at the moment means you're right in the firing line." Guy said claiming that — as the EFA, Google and Facebook "knew" — you would get "broadsided" if you upset Conroy or his department.

"It's starting to get to the point where the govt's message for you if you're part of the digital economy in Australia is shush," he said.

Oliver Redlynch said...

Get real people, this kind of retention policy has been in place in Europe for several years already and the ISPs haven't collapsed. If you're really worried about snooping, make sure you remove all browser "toolbars" like Yahoo and Google from computers and phones. Do you really think the CIA doesn't have access to all the data that google "collects" via such toolbars (browsing history), search requests (your preferences), gmail (all your correspondance), gcalendar (where you'll be), gmaps (where you currently are) etc. Just look what the UAE is doing with Blackberry this morning?

If you're paranoid, you have to go to extrodinary lengths to not be tracked on the internet, and even then you're likely to be flagged as suspicious. Its one thing to have your own government spying on its citizen, but with the internet any government can spy on anyone else.

Right .... I'm now waiting for the knock on the door.

Alison Alloway said...

During the trial of several men from Pitcairn Island (charged over multiple sex offices) the prosecution was able to obtain records from the islanders ISP of all emails and web browsing over a lengthy period. Every single islander with a PC was monitored, not just those charged with an offence. This was in 2003. Source: "Pitcairn - Paradise Lost" by Kathy Marks.(Published 2008) Kathy was one of the journalists who covered the trials.

Syd Walker said...

Oliver suggests we 'get real', claiming "this kind of retention policy has been in place in Europe for several years already."

That's true, as anyone who watched the video or follows some of the references in the article will know (although the fact something is done in Europe doesn't necessarily make it right for Australia, does it?)

But Oliver doesn't say that the Australian Government's monitoring proposals appear to go a LOT further (we can't be entirely sure because of the very secretive way it's developing its plans).

Alison informs us that the Pitcairns Islands were already subject to intensive internet surveillance back in 2003. I'll take your word for it, Alison. Is that supposed be ressuring?

As ASIO's budget has been increased by more than ONE THOUSAND PERCENT in ten years (with full bipartisan support), I appreciate its 1,800 staff may need something to do.

Snooping Australians' web records is probably more benign than other ways they could kill time.

Better than staging bomb atrocities, I suppose.