Senior editor for The Australian backs data retention


blog We don’t pretend to know what goes on in the minds of journalists who work for News Ltd, but sometimes some really quite unexpected views appear in their articles. A perfect example is this (paywalled) article by Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor of News Ltd newspaper The Australian backing Labor’s extremely controversial data retention scheme. If you have a subscription to the newspaper and can read the full article, we recommend you do so, as an example of conservative thinking on this issue in action. A non-paywalled paragraph:

“[The film Zero Dark Thirty’s] lengthier demonstration of the centrality of phone intercept and phone-tracking technology has surprised no one. Today we stand on the threshold of losing that ability and massively empowering terrorists and criminals as a result.”

Now, thankfully former Howard Government advisor Alan R.M. Jones was able to get an intelligent article rebutting Sheridan’s somewhat outlandish claims into the pages of the newspaper, giving some credence to the well-known quote by Arthur Miller that “a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself”, with a multitude of views being espoused. However, we have to say we’re still surprised by Sheridan’s views.

At this point it really is quite hard to find anyone across the whole spectrum of politics and industry who is in favour of the Attorney-General’s Department’s data retention scheme, apart from the department itself and some of the more hard-line law enforcement agencies. If you go outside those somewhat rarefied areas, it’s clear that the policy is broadly opposed by virtually everyone — telcos, sections of the Coalition including Malcolm Turnbull, the Greens, the Institute of Public Affairs, privacy commissioners, Electronic Frontiers Australia and, of course, the general public. Many of these groups are strange bedfellows, but they’ve found common ground when it comes to data retention. And who can blame them? There are so many disturbing aspects to this odious proposal that it’s not funny. Universal record-keeping about all Australian communications, by bureaucrats who have displayed technical ineptitude regarding their plans? No thanks.

Yeap. Almost everyone is against this one — owing to the fact that, as Victoria’s Privacy Commissioner put it so well, the initiative would impose conditions akin to “a police state”. But Sheridan thinks it’s merely a necessary update to existing law enforcement powers. Right. At least we know now where News Ltd stands on such things.


  1. No great surprise. The Australian is one step short of a fascist publication when it comes to politics with very little even coverage of topics.

    Shame they get so much press ;)

  2. I find it most amusing that Greg Sheridan is saying Labor is right! And of this of all things!

    Not quite as funny as how loud The Australian will scream when those records are used by the government to work out who the Oz’s sources are though :o)

  3. yeah, I’m not surprised either. The Australian are notorious for supporting policies the majority disagree with while deriding the ones the majority agree with. I’m wondering though since everyone who is in favor of this data retention is obviously wanting more openness in our society why would they also object to groups like anonymous that put information out in the open. We shouldn’t object to it if we have nothing to hide right?

    • I think you know this anyway but I’ll say it for anyone who reads here:
      They aren’t going to allow their own information to be collected; they just want yours. This is a one way street in which the powerful have all the legal protect to preserve their secrets and you have none.

  4. In the article, Greg Sheridan says

    “Let me make a prediction. Without this legislation there will inevitably be a mass terrorist event in Australia and then the legislation will pass in 12 hours.Without this legislation there will inevitably be a mass terrorist event in Australia and then the legislation will pass in 12 hours.”

    That statement could be wrongly interpreted as more like a threat than a prediction.

    Personally, I’m all for giving non corrupt and independent Australian law enforcement officials access to more data and tools by which to attempt to prevent and solve crime. Particularly corporate crime and collusion, price fixing, tax evasion etc. Most particularly so they can track all those politicians of all flavors from feathering their own nests, and misusing their power and influence.

  5. Well Sheridan if you hadn’t made it in before, you sure have now, sooo…

    “Welcome to the Penis With Ears Club, just pop over and see Jonesy and Bolty at the bar, they are quaffing down a few jars of Ruperts homebrewed poison…and we really do mean poison”!

  6. Sheridan’s ideas come straight from the US right wing. He’s not agreeing with Labor – quelle horreur! – he’s simply repeating claims from his neo-con sources. Remember those guys? They created the PATRIOT Act and the Department of Homeland Security.

  7. His prediction is laughable. We didn’t have this legislation in place for the last 10 years, what was keeping us ‘safe’ during that period, a cheery disposition? Clearly, the threat (if there was a credible, large-scale threat) was manageable using existing means. It’s the equivalent of Lisa Simpson’s tiger-repelling rock –

    #protip: Paywalled articles can almost always be accessed by searching for the article headline in quotes – e.g. – the first link will take you to the full article. Most paywalls let through traffic following links from search engines.

  8. My understanding is, if you use gmail, hotmail, yahoo or some other US mail facility your emails are already being retained by the NSA.

    And since the US and Aus have an information sharing agreement, it’s all available to the Aus Gov.

    The trouble is, at the moment Australian Courts may exclude such information in any trial as it was gathered without a warrant.

    So, is the Gov simply trying to legalise what they already have?

    I recognise there are other services that are strictly local to Australia, and this legislation will allow inclusion of that, but with the internet hubs channelling most traffic through the US, the NSA may well have captured a lot of that as well.

    In some ways I am a supporter of data retention on a wide array of information. I do not see that as the evil. It is how the information is used that produces the evil. Any use of that information in secret is amost always a reflection of misuse.

    So, as a novel thought, consider if all information on an individual had to be made available to the individual. Imagine the impact if a suspected terrorist was told he was suspect and “here’s the evidence”, or a suspected drug dealer was shown his communications and bank transactions, or a politician was presented with suspect cab chits or expense claims and each was asked to explain these details early on rather than after a crime occurred.

    Information can be a powerful force to civilise behaviour and deter crime and corruption. And it works for all levels of society.

    Secret surveillance has little if any similar impact.

    So the question is, do we want to prevent crime and corruption or have evidence that will permit prosecution after the fact.

    I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not saying private information should be made public, I am saying private information should be a matter between the individual and the authorities and if it is not known in equal detail by both it cannot be used as evidence for prosecution UNLESS it is gathered after the issue of a valid warrant; ie. if behaviour continues after suspicion is known.

    If sunlight is the best disinfectant than it should be used liberally before any infection can fester not simply after infection has become gangrenous.

  9. Why is anyone surprise, this is the same Opinion Columnist (Opinionist?) who support, no, championed The Suharto regime.

  10. Sheridan is a dick. Not just on this article but all day every day. I think in this instance ‘care in the community’ isn’t working. Time for the jacket where the arms fasten at the back. He’d be safer and we’d all be better informed.

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