Why #NatSecInquiry is filling me with worry


This article is by Matthew Hatton, an opinionated writer from Newcastle. It first appeared on his blog and is re-published here with his permission.

analysis I’m the first to admit that I have not followed the #NatSecInquiry (or the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security’s Inquiry into potential reforms of Natural Security Legislation, to use its formal name) all that closely. There were a few reasons for this, but the point is I was listening yesterday. And my god was it terrifying.

If you thought that the political response to Charlotte Dawson and Robbie Farah getting upset at mean people on the Internet was concerning then, as the band said, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. I tuned into the live stream around lunchtime. Just as the NSW, South Australian and Australian Federal Police commissioners were giving evidence to the hearing.

Their attitudes towards basic principles of civil society – such as innocent until proven guilty and an individual’s privacy – were downright terrifying. NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione can be singled out as the one seemingly most willing to throw away the provisions surrounding how police can access information about a person and the oversight that goes along with that in order to make his job easier.

According to the evidence (submission? I’m slightly unsure of what the correct terminology is here) he presented to the hearing, getting a warrant issued from the judiciary in order to monitor a suspect’s electronic communications was simply too hard for him to be bothered doing.

That’s right. Following existing procedures in place to ensure police collect evidence in a legal manner was just too hard. So they want unrestricted, unmonitored access to what everyone is doing online, regardless of whether they are suspected to have committed an offence or not. Just trust them, they said. Yeah. No.

Further to this, the commissioners were seeking access to encryption keys for services like Skype and Blackberry so that they can directly access data on those services without having to ask either the companies involved or, again, get a warrant issued from the judiciary.

Yet in spite of this, the police commissioners could present no hard evidence showing how a data retention scheme would assist them in solving crimes. There were no studies, no statistics, no nothing. Scipione did offer one anecdote, however, and a couple of hypotheticals to back up his assertion that grossly invading people’s privacy would be beneficial.

They then went as far to dismiss a German study – which demonstrated that a data retention scheme did not have any affect on prosecution rates – as “absolute rubbish”. Sure, it may only be one study, made in a different continent, but to dismiss it because you have an anecdote that proved nothing and some hypotheticals is just abysmal. It’s worth noting that their dismissal of the study went largely unchallenged by the hearing’s panel.

There was one highlight in all this, however, when Andrew Wilkie asked why do police need access to an individual’s online activities when most of the information that they would use in evidence when prosecuting a crime can already be accessed, via warrant or subpoena, through the databases and services that a suspect uses. For example, you do not need to monitor a user’s online activity to see what they are doing in their bank account when that information can be sought from the bank itself with a court-issued warrant. The police commissioners were hesitant to admit that this was, in fact, the case instead making Kermit arms and saying a variety of things about paedophiles and “won’t somebody think of the children?”

But it soon turned out that those asking the questions were really no better than those answering them. The questioning of online rights/free speech groups presenting later in the day was by far more vigorous than what the police commissioners were put through (at this point, I’d quote from the Hansard transcript to better prove my point, but I’m told that won’t be available for week or so.Thanks, government).

Many on the panel could not understand how there is a difference between a system that a person chooses to use that tracks what they do (say, Fly Buys) and a proposal for the government to track everything they do online. Apparently, an individual exploiting their agency to determine who or what is allowed to have a record of their selected activities is something that is a concept that they just cannot grasp.

There was also an avoiding of questions surrounding how such a massive repository of personal data could be secured not only from misuse by those with (potentially) unrestricted, unaccountable access, but also from being accessed via hacking or leaking. The prevailing attitude seemed to be that having at least some level of data retention is inevitable. This should not be the case.

The potential for this inquiry to result in legislation that creates a new, powerful surveillance state is very, very real. The creation of new policy and presupposes everyone is a criminal and places masses upon masses of personal, private data in the hands of police, with little oversight, who are supposed to just trust not to misuse and abuse should frighten every single person in this country to their very core.

And given the level of ignorance amongst our government and the clear, agenda driving of those leading law enforcement and intelligence organisations to have access to this data, there is no reason not to think that the implementation of a data retention scheme will not put us on the road to a very dark place.

There is absolutely no way that we, the electorate, should allow this to happen. This inquiry, and any proposals that stem from it, should be looked at very closely and any expansion of powers of the state put forward should be fought.

Image credit: Anja Ranneberg, royalty free


  1. “…could not understand how there is a difference between a system that a person chooses to use that tracks what they do (say, Fly Buys) and a proposal for the government to track everything they do online.”

    That terrifies me.

    • They are the people who would be doing the monitoring. It seems perfectly natural and right to them, just as I’m sure it felt perfectly natural and right to the hard-working members of the Stasi who were responsible for keeping dossiers on East German citizens…

  2. This will surely be fine. It’s not as if we have ever encountered corrupt police, or corrupt police commissioners…


  3. The current Federal Government’s Data Retention proposals are alarming to say the least. In my view, they clearly lay a framework for the establishment of a “Police State” – a Totalitarian Society, if you like.

    I strongly recommend that everyone reads the following article published by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at:


    How many of you have read George Orwell’s book, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”? This novel, written during the mid to late 1940’s, is recommended reading for all people who believe in open democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”.

    Many would say, that “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, was a very close reflection on the society of surveillance and control, created by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. Similar oppressive societies were maintained by the Third Reich’s Gestapo, and the further enhanced apparatus of control and surveillance maintained by East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit), known to many as the “Stasi”, for almost forty years.

    To further emphasise the gravity of the measures that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is considering, I also urge you to view the following program available for the next thirteen days at the SBS website (if you can):


    The former East German regime stands in history, as a clear and well documented warning of the consequences of living in a police state. We would do well to urgently heed this warning.

    History is replete with examples of governments purporting by claim or constitution to be open liberal democracies, progressively implementing totalitarian policies over time, when left unchecked by the citizens whom they claim to represent. Australia is one such society.

    Open democratic liberal societies that support the principles of freedom of speech, freedom and equality of association, and the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”; have to be maintained by all of us – the citizenry.

    If you still have doubts, but value your freedom, consider reading George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, and contemplate life as a citizen in former police states such as the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), the Third Reich, and the Soviet Union.

    Of course, dare I say it, if you’re looking for a contemporary example of a well organised police state, look no further than China and it’s policies on the aforementioned liberties, and the internet.

    YOU and I – WE; have to make it well known to our lawmakers, that we strongly object in the most uncertain terms to any further erosion of our civil liberties and privacy – every time they attempt to do so.

  4. I amend the last paragraph of my previous comment above, to now read:

    “We have to make it absolutely clear to our lawmakers that we will not accept any erosion of our civil liberties and privacy. We must demand that the proposals put forward by the police chiefs and the Attorney General be rejected.”

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