news A new poll conducted by Essential Media has shown that 80 percent of Australians disapprove of the Government being able to access Australians’ phone and Internet records without a warrant, in research which is already being hailed as “vindication” for campaigns against government intrusion into private residents’ telecommunications.
Under Australia’s Telecommunications (Interception and Access Act), certain Australian Government departments and agencies — especially those in the law enforcement field — are able to access Australians’ telecommunications data. In the 2012 financial year, such agencies made close to 300,000 requests for telecommunications data, without a warrant.
The long-running issue — as well as associated issues such as the revelations of government spying on many fronts by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden — led the Greens to successfully move a motion in the Senate in December last year to establish a formal inquiry into Internet surveillance, through a review that will take place into the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act.
The results released today of a new poll revealed that Australians are deeply concerned about the issue. The poll was conducted by Essential Media with data provided by Your Source. It was conducted online from 14 to 17 February this year and was based on just over 1,000 respondents. The full results are available online in PDF format.
One of the questions asked in the poll was: “Do you approve or disapprove of the Australian Government being able to access your phone and Internet records without a warrant.” The results showed that 80 percent of respondents disapproved of the practice, with 56 percent strongly disapproving. Only 16 percent approved and only 4 percent strongly approved.
The views showed strong concern amongst all groups of voters. Disapproval was highest amongst Labor and Greens voters, with 88 percent and 85 percent respectively disapproving of the practice, while 71 percent of Coalition voters disapproved and only 18 percent approved.
The Pirate Party Australia, which is focused on digital rights as one of its core platforms, immediately highlighted the poll result as a “vindication” of campaigning on the issue over the past several years.
The party stated that it holds the view that any surveillance conducted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies must only be carried out when there is enough evidence for the investigators to obtain a warrant. According to the Pirate Party, every use of surveillance is an intrusion of a citizen’s personal privacy and the statistics showed the vast majority of Australians believe there must be sufficient evidence that the privacy breach was necessary before surveillance could be undertaken.
“This is a vindication for everyone who is working to put a stop to the warrantless surveillance that has become prevalent over the last few years,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “In the last telecommunications and surveillance annual report there were over 300,000 uses of Australians’ metadata without a warrant. This could amount to about 1 in 70 Australians having their privacy breached with no judicial oversight. This needs to be put to a stop immediately.”
The party pointed out that the results showed that 71 percent of Coalition voters opposed warrantless access, suggesting that it was in the Federal Government’s best interests to prohibit warrantless access to communications records to maintain public support. The Pirate Party said it and other activist organisations had been concerned about the lack of judicial oversight, and Essential Research’s poll suggested that the bulk of Australians are too.
“The growth of mass surveillance has been carried out with no public consultation and marks a shift in the balance of power between government and citizens. This is made worse by the Coalition being even more opaque than the Labor Party were when they were in power. We need greater transparency and accountability from government and for the people of Australia to be treated as citizens, not suspects. Just because technology enables vast stores of data to be collected, it does not make it right,” Frew continued.
Despite Labor voters being the largest opponents of warrantless access (88 percent disapproval), it was the Attorney-General’s Department under the previous Labor Governments, the party pointed out, that proposed significant reforms to national security legislation which would have increased the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access records without warrants. Depending on the direction the Abbott Government takes, the results indicate that at least one major party has an enormous disconnect with its supporters on this issue.
These poll results are not a surprise. Yet again what we see is that our politicians are not listening to ordinary Australians on a key issue. One can only hope that they will pay attention to this one.
Image credit: Still from Gladiator, table from Essential Media