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At the mercy of the State

There is something very rotten in the state of a nation’s politics when both its government and its opposition are able to co-operate on the introduction of legislation for intrusive mass surveillance of the nation’s entire population.

If you want to better understand the repercussions of this legislation for the individual, I’d recommend reading this piece, sending the suggested letter to your MP, then retreating to a corner to weep for what we’re becoming.

The government and opposition argue that these extreme surveillance measures are necessary to apprehend terrorists, paedophiles and major criminals, all of whom will by now have devised encryption methods to bypass government surveillance, and most of whom will have had such methods securely in place for years.

What has been most alarming in the lead-up to the Senate debate on the legislation today has been the apathy of mainstream media towards proposed state surveillance that frames every citizen who uses the Internet as a suspect. Not as a potential suspect, but as a suspect whose online activity can be accessed by agents of the state without a warrant, if they decide to go after you.

If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear, claimed AFP Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris. However, in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s own words institutions aren’t perfect, as we well know from the institutional abuses of all kinds that are exposed daily by whistleblowers, many of whom will be left without a means to reveal corruption under the new legislation.

The “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear” argument implies that the state and its agents have the right to know everything about you in the first place, and that they will determine what is deserving of their attention in your daily activities. The term “hide” is used in this argument rather than the term “privacy.”

In the replacing of one word for another, the citizen’s right to a life kept private from the state is pejoratively reframed as having “something to hide”. We are now guilty until we can prove ourselves innocent, because what else can we be if our online lives can be investigated without even a warrant?

Metadata retention legislation does not uncover what every citizen is necessarily “hiding.” It destroys every single citizen’s right to privately go about her and his online pursuits under the assumption that privacy equates to hiding, and thus becomes the object of suspicion and intervention.

Like a suspicious spouse or the interfering parent of an adolescent, the government now assumes if you want privacy you must be guilty of something.

Those who have “something to hide” will continue to find ways to hide, just like Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull who uses an encryption service to send his text messages.

We know governments can’t be trusted simply because they are governments. We know institutions can’t be trusted simply because they are institutions. To give these bodies unrestricted access to our online lives is an insanity. We are now all at the mercy of the state and its agents to an unprecedented degree, a situation that is intolerable in a liberal democracy.

The ALP are a disgrace for supporting the Coalition in this Big Brother legislation.

Get encrypted. It’s not complicated. Senator Scott Ludlum makes some suggestions on RN Breakfast this morning.

And here’s a Get Up campaign that will help you go dark.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Tony Abbott tells us he was never worried about metadata collection when he was a journalist so what’s the problem?

That man really knows his onions. It’s breath-taking.

This article was first published on Jennifer’s blog No Place For Sheep.


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  1. Rafe Falkiner

    The government is judging the citizens by themselves. eg if abbott has nothing to hide. Show us you don’t have dual citizenship

  2. Pingback: At the mercy of the State – » The Australian Independent Media Network | winstonclose

  3. Keith

    Unfortunately, the ALP is neocon light in some areas,megadata retention being one example.
    Secrecy has been a hallmark of the abbott gang, they display distrust of the electorate, but really its a case of psychological projection.
    The abbott gang cannot be trusted.

  4. gangey1959

    “Yeah Yeah sure Tony (Or Scott/George/Julie or whoever else). I’ll leave the money on the ‘fridge. And you signed your renunciation form too”.
    Isn’t that why Malcolm in the middle used his twitr( or whatever) thingy?

  5. CMMC

    ‘Metadata’ does not currently have a legal definition in Australia.

    The key aspect, in regards to privacy, is ‘content’. This incudes your phone conversations and texts, and your browsing history.

    Abbott has stated that no content will be treated as metadata, but browsing history is what the Copyright Nazis want to look at.

  6. Glenn

    CMMC, you are absolutely wrong. Content is not that important to understand where a person goes and when, who he/she communicates with, when, and where. If you have a smartphone then it is a tracking device for where you are every minute of the day (to within 50 metres), who you communicate with and when (personal or business – makes no difference). Same applies to any pc, laptop, or tablet. No doubt the carriers will also have to supply all the info from the various free WiFi services they offer in public spaces…..
    Even the protection for the press is a furphy. If for example there is a whistleblower and something has been leaked from the AG office….. No need to worry about the journo. Simply look at the tracking history for all the employees of the AG office and you will find your whistleblower. You’ll find out which journo he/she communicated with, when, where, and how. Without ever once looking at the journo’s metadata. You don’t need to look at the content. You’ve found your whistleblower and now you can destroy that person (lots of recent examples of that…think HRC…)
    Most people do not realize how UGLY this is. This is the ultimate Police State tool. History is littered with abuse of power. Just because we live in a wealthy country does not mean we are immune. We are not.
    You are right on one thing – a big part of this is about copyright. Likely that our various FTA’s will allow foreign corporations the legal cover to access the stored metadata to enforce their copyright. That is such a rabbit-hole of spiraling out of control.
    This is SO DANGEROUS. We will live in a fascist police state if this is passed. No further changes to the law required, thank you very much. Well… can’t happen in Australia, can it? Really? what did the average German do to stop the genocide? what did the average Rwandan do? the average Cambodian? My point is not that we will face genocide in Australia, but that in the face of state-induced fear the average citizen closes their eyes and thinks “I’m ok, it won’t touch me”.
    We have a government big on fear-mongering. We have a problem.
    I have worked in I.T. for over 25 years. I get how dangerous this is. It scares me.

  7. Shevill Mathers

    When Tony Abbott was a reporter, no-one kept used typewriter ribbons!

  8. Jexpat

    Among other things, this is a tremendous waste of a lot of money.

    If the relevant authorities cannot even keep track of a loudmouthed nutter like Man Haron Monis (who sent letters to everyone including Queen of England!) how are they going to sift through and make any use of the sheer volume of data that they’re set to be collecting and retaining?

    At best, piling the whole haystack over the needles will only dilute their workflow, making them even less functional than they already are.

  9. jezzag

    I read a comment somewhere that it’ll go towards making Australia more TPP compliant. I feel sickened that the ALP didn’t bat an eye lid

  10. deanyz1

    Remember the Australia Card?

  11. tet02

    Shadow Attorney-Generals reply to a request for information on where Labour stands concerning the metadata bill.

    Thank you for your email about the Abbott Government’s mandatory data retention bill.
    Labor believes that our law enforcement and national security agencies should have the powers they need to protect Australians from the threats of crime and terrorism. However, we also believe in the importance of protecting the fundamental freedoms that define Australia as a democratic nation. It is critical that we get the balance right between keeping people safe and protecting our liberties.
    The data retention bill is a complex and controversial piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the Abbott Government has done a very poor job of explaining why these laws are necessary and how they will work. In addition, the Greens Party has deliberately and irresponsibly misrepresented the facts for its own political purposes. All of this has made it difficult to have an open and honest conversation about data retention.
    The reality is that private companies have been retaining very large volumes of metadata in a largely unregulated manner for many years. This data has been accessed by many dozens of Federal and State/Territory agencies including and local Councils hundreds of thousands of times each year, with insufficient safeguards to protect personal privacy.
    Labor approached the bill as an opportunity to regulate and improve the use of data for law enforcement and counter-terrorism purposes, while at the same time introducing safeguards that will greatly improve the transparency and accountability of storage and access to that data.
    We cannot overlook the fact that access to metadata is vital to the work of our law enforcement and national security agencies. Metadata has been key in responding to a range of serious crimes including terrorist offences, drug trafficking and child sexual offences.
    Technological change and changing business practices of telecommunications providers mean that less data will be retained by some companies in future. There is a significant risk that this will hamper the important work of security and law enforcement agencies and lessen their ability to keep Australians safe. It would be irresponsible for the Labor Party, as the alternative Government, to pretend that these risks do not exist.
    The bill that was introduced into the Parliament by Malcolm Turnbull before Christmas last year was nowhere near good enough – the safeguards were inadequate and the detail was vague. That is why Labor insisted it be sent to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for proper scrutiny, and to allow the public to have their say.

    The Labor Members of that Committee listened carefully and forced the Abbott Government to accept 74 amendments to improve the bill, to better balance the importance of upholding fundamental democratic freedoms with national security concerns.
    There has been a particular focus on oversight and accountability mechanisms and measures to improve data security. We believe these improved safeguards are essential to protecting the privacy of Australians and to give the Australian community confidence that personal data collected under the scheme will not be compromised or misused.
    In particular, Labor believes that freedom of the press is one of the most fundamental elements of our democracy and we will always fight to protect it. Labor forced the Abbott Government to accept a regime where it will be illegal for agencies to access metadata for the purposes of identifying a journalist’s source unless they first obtain a warrant, generally from a Court. There will be a statutory presumption against issuing the warrant and agencies will need to prove that the public interest in obtaining the information sought under the warrant outweighs the public interest in protecting journalists’ sources, which is essential to the freedom of the press. A Public Interest Advocate will be appointed to represent the interests of journalists whenever an application for a warrant is made.
    These changes will mean much stronger protections for journalists and their sources – certainly much stronger than what Malcolm Turnbull originally proposed. It has been frustrating that it has taken so long for the Liberal Party to agree to support better protections for journalists. It is even more frustrating that the Government still refuses to acknowledge that the stronger protections secured by Labor needed to occur. It took Bill Shorten writing to the Prime Minister insisting on defending the freedom of the press to force the Government to back down.
    In addition, the data retention bill will limit access to metadata to a much smaller number of core law enforcement and national security agencies. Corporate and competition regulators will retain access to metadata, to help them crack down on white collar crime and other wrongdoing. Overall, this is a significant improvement on the largely unregulated approach to access to metadata that currently exists.
    Labor has been consistent in our belief that we must strike the right balance between keeping people safe and protecting the rights and liberties we value as Australians. Parliament has no greater responsibility and it is essential that we take a mature and bipartisan approach to these issues.
    Thank you once again for writing to share your views.

    Yours sincerely,

    Mark Dreyfus QC MP
    Shadow Attorney-General

  12. Damo451

    ALP = Another Liberal Party

  13. stephentardrew

    Who will monitor the public interest advocate? A usual it will be a political appointment. Quite frankly, conservative or Labor, we citizens are loosing trust in politicians for obvious reasons to extensive to go into here. To earn our trust you must demonstrate you are trustworthy and at the moment no one is pushing back against the driving power of the corporate and banking sectors to repress the ordinary citizens of this country.

    Not one of them went to jail. Neither conservatives nor progressives stood up and shouted for convictions. Trust us you say. Well it’s time to earn our trust. You my dear politicians have one hell of a problem of your own making in your unbridled support for the one percent.

    And you think we are just going to lie down and trust you. Our job is to make you accountable not to fall down like a bunch of genuflecting sheep given crumbs as rewards by their masters.

    Capitalism is in crisis while you fiddle on the periphery. Well dear friends the next global financial crisis is on the way because the core laws that needed to be changed have once again been weakened and ignored. Left and right think that more of the same is a solution. Quite frankly I am sick of all of your silver tongues and continual vacillating while ordinary citizens suffer endlessly for the cycles of boom and bust none of you will willingly confront. And we pay the criminals off through quantitative easing.

    Are you nuts?

    Well yes!

    No left and right cannot be trusted until they challenge the very foundation of economic rationalism, supply side economics and neo-con greed and exploitation. Haven’t you heard the gap between rich and poor is widening while wages and conditions are being eroded.

    Thanks a heap bullshit artists.

    And now you want unfettered access to our private data.

    Well sunshine the truth is we cannot trust you full stop so quit the bleating and take some action.

  14. Harquebus

    “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.” — Joseph Goebbels

  15. Harquebus

    The NSA hoovers up hotmail, gmail, yahoo, facebook and twitter.
    The five eyes share information. It’s how they get around local laws.
    Five eyes: U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
    Echelon is also something worth looking up.

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  17. Annie B

    Considering the fact that tracking of all kinds has been going on for a long time, I tend to believe the ‘release’ of all this ‘important’ information by the mob that rule at this time, was intended largely to dumb-down further, the Australians who are indeed afraid and to try and make more people buckle.

    Police State ? … for sure. …. There are many ways fascism can be introduced, and making people fearful is just one of the crude and cruel methods.

    As Harquebus has suggested …. do have a look at Echelon – which was begun in the early 1960’s ( yes that far back ) as part of military ops. …. It has now become :

    “By the end of the 20th century, the system referred to as “ECHELON” had evolved beyond its military/diplomatic origins, to also become “… a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications.”

    So be not afraid. …. That’s precisely what the powers that be want. …. Don’t give in to it, and don’t give them what they want.


    As a small aside, my own Smartphone, which I leave turned off most of the time, unless I want to use it as a phone or send a short text, tells ME where I have been and where I am – at any given time. Doesn’t take much imagination to know that this device is open to anyone who wants to look at it, through the server.


    I do agree with Glenn. ……

    In every aspect, not just this situation, we live in a country, controlled by an exceedingly dangerous lot of individuals.

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