Australia’s division of the Pirate Party has declared war on the Federal Government over a controversial proposal which could potentially see telcos required to keep records of web browsing history, telephone calls and emails of their users.
“Exploiting the emotional issue of sexual child abuse, and under the guise of national security, the government is pushing for the introduction of what can only be considered a stepping stone towards a surveillance state,” said the party’s secretary Rodney Serkowski in a statement issued late last night.
The idea being explored with industry 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.
ZDNet.com.au has also reported that ISP industry sources had flagged the potential for the new regime to require ISPs to record a users’ complete web browsing history. ISPs such as iiNet have known about some aspects of the proposal since late 2009, but are believed to have signed confidentiality agreements to not disclose details of the proposal, while another ISP, Exetel, has described the proposal as “totally insane”.
Currently, ISPs will only allow this level of monitoring on users’ behaviour with a warrant — they normally do not retain this degree of data by default.
Neither Attorney-General Robert McLelland nor Communications Minister Stephen Conroy had responded to a request for comment on the matter.
The Pirate Party Australia – which internationally advocates libertarian-style digital rights — said it was “shocked and appalled” that the Federal Government would consider this level of surveillance. “There is absolutely no need for this level of Orwellian monitoring and data retention – it is an unjustified and disproportionate incursion into the fundamental right to privacy, and is likely to be abused,” Serkowski continued.
Added Pirate Party spokesperson Simon Frew: “This kind of surveillance will have a chilling effect on public discourse and political debate, people become fearful of being monitored and will lead to self-censorship. It is the complete antithesis of how the Pirate Party believes democracy should function.
Key to the Pirate Party’s complaint against the proposal is the idea that the monitoring powers could be abused – both by law enforcement officials themselves, as well as by external parties who could hack into such powerful databases.
The party also included a statement by Shu Ning Bian, a research assistant at the University of Sydney’s School of IT, claiming that “like the proposed internet filter”, the data retention proposal would be able to be “trivially circumvented” using technologies such as web encryption (HTTPS services) or virtual private networking.
But such a system would still require “enormous” investments by ISPs to implement, they said.
ISPs have so far remained unwilling to comment on the details of what they have been discussing with the Government about the proposal.
However, Serkowski said the Pirate Party hoped the industry would not aid the Government on such policies. “Such violations of human dignity and privacy are completely unacceptable,” he said. “These sorts of policies are grossly invasive.”
The issue is being discussed on Twitter under the #ozlog hashtag.