blog Wondering how the MP widely considered likely to become the eventual next leader of the Australian Labor Party views the controversial data retention and surveillance issue? Wonder no more. Deputy Leader of the Opposition and former Health, Human Services and Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek is all for it. The Guardian tells us (we recommend you click here for the full article), basing its piece on an interview from Sky News (which we can’t immediately find online) over the weekend:
“Plibersek suggested she was comfortable in-principle with telecommunications companies collecting metadata and storing it for a mandatory retention period. She said the community had a right to privacy, and to expectations of living in an open and democratic society – but her view was government needed to make it as “easy as we can” for intelligence agencies to protect against established and emerging threats.”
The news that Plibersek supports increased data retention powers in Australia should not come as a surprise. For some time, both the Coalition and Labor have been pushing for stronger powers for law enforcement agencies to gain access to Australians’ telecommunications data. Attorneys-General on both sides of the political fence have repeatedly attempted to introduce new policies in this area.
However, is it disappointing. There is clearly a global climate of concern on issues of data retention and electronic surveillance, spurred especially by Edward Snowden’s continued revelations about the activities of the US National Security Agency. As a poll taken last month by Essential Media showed, 80 percent of Australians disapprove of the Government being able to access Australians’ phone and Internet records without a warrant.
If it wants to be an effective Opposition, Labor needs to take some time to step away from its close relationship with Australia’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies and look at what the Australian public thinks about this issue: That any expanded powers must come with just as powerful controls over them.
And this is not a small issue. Those who are following it will recall that a recent move by the Greens (supported by Labor) to set up a Senate inquiry into the potential reform of Australia’s surveillance laws appeared to have opened a giant Pandora’s Box of debate about the issue, with Australian law enforcement agencies using the process to demand massively increased electronic surveillance rights, including data retention of users’ communications. Labor should not just roll over and support this style of ambit claim without extensive and public debate.