Labor deputy Plibersek backs data retention



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.

Image credit: RubyGoes, Creative Commons


  1. To be honest if they choose to give them more power abuse will happen. They can say whatever they like but humans will be humans and abuse will occur.

    If they choose to allow this, Labor will lose my vote. Greens and pirate party will get my votes.

  2. First – why is there a problem with forcing intelligence agencies to obtain warrants before they conduct surveillance? Warrants ensure that executive actions are appropriately checked.

    Second, on the off chance that we do get mass data collection like the US, all this means is that people will adapt. They will start using encryption for their emails, TOR, VPN and seedboxes for their web browsing and downloads and will keep their mobiles away when they need to have private conversations or go out to places they don’t want big brother knowing about. They will start using cash more often rather than credit cards and will be more cautious of what identifying information they leave behind.

    Third – if an ordinary citizen like me knows to do the above in the case that we DO become a police state, what do you think the terrorists and kiddy porn peddlers will do? They will actually have something to hide. They will use the above and more to evade data collection.

    So tell me, what does all this achieve? We can now be likened to China for our authoritarian policies, we modify people’s behavior by treating everyone like a suspect and we don’t actually reach our goal – catching the terrorists. Sounds like an awful lot of trouble for not alot of payoff.

  3. Twitter already stores content and there are scores of companies and govt agencies monitoring publicly available data via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked in, etc. Crowd-sourced data is crucial for emergency management and forensic evidence and social media text mining tools are widely adopted by Police and Emergency Service Organisations and there is no going back.

    Spies and the public have access to tools capable of text mining intelligence and junk made available on the web.

    • Alex,

      This is EXACTLY why I don’t have Fecabook or Twatter or the Missing-Linked or the G-Spot.
      There is no profile of me in any of those leakers.

  4. What else could you expect from someone with a name like Plibersek. She would give approval for random late night raids on our homes and offices next. When will these politicians start representing the people and put their best interests first?

    • What else could one expect from someone with a name called Mark?

      What the hell does the woman’s name have to do with this issue? You could ask what else we could expect from the Libs with a guy who sounds like Arnie S and is called Cormann running Finance… stormtroopers at dawn maybe?

      Grow up…

  5. Have they demonstrated any actual VALUE in retained data? If retained data is pertinent to a crime then the crime has already been committed and therefore whatever “national security” risk there may have been will already have been exposed and should be being worked backwards from to make sure it’s no longer a risk.

    Data retention can only usefully be used for creating profiles of individuals. Whilst this may be useful to law enforcement in some cases, like Alex M says, what’s wrong with getting a warrant for actual suspects? The warrant process protects the innocent majority from the possibility of having profiles created about them.

    It sounds as if governments / law enforcement want to jump on the “big data” bandwagon in order to put people in the pigeon holes they see as appropriate. Whilst I don’t think their intentions are overly malicious, the potential for abuse increases significantly – especially if warrants are deemed unnecessary.

    • Nail, head, hit Daniel. Mass meta data surveillance is about data mining, profiling and pattern detection. It is mostly (not solely) about determining suspicions to act on, not acting on suspicions. That is why the concept of “warrants” doesn’t really apply. We are actually discussing a new kind of privacy problem here but no-one seems to realise it

      • I guess in that case mass data retention is sort of like mass camera surveillance, in that it won’t prevent a crime from happening, but it could sometimes possibly help catch someone that perpetrated it – if we are lucky.

    • Well written, well stated, doing something. I’ll be writing to my local member shortly as well. Whatever it’s worth, it’s the right thing to do. It’s a start.

  6. I have no problem collecting the data.

    I have a huge problem with them raiding that data without judicial oversight.

    If they have a case, let them present it. A judge can then decide if it stand or falls on it’s own merit and allow/deny access to the data.

  7. Actually, I don’t understand the issue here. There was no mention of her position on warrants so all she is suggesting is that existing practice be made formal. The interview suggests that they should make it easy for agencies – but i can’t see any position on how that might happen other than mandatory retention of metadata.

    Telstra metadata was used in the trial of Phuong Ngo for the assassination of John Newman back in 1994, so it’s not like they haven’t been retaining metadata.

  8. Plibersek for all her glamor and perceived common sense that she displays on Q&A is just another drone tugging the party line to satisfy the people that keep her in the front bench. Both Labor and the Coalition know that they both hold the keys while the Greens and minor parties squabble over the crumbs and they figure, just like with the Asylum Seeker fiasco that if they both dance to the same tune, Aussies will give up the fight.

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