What is it?

The Data Retention Bill is currently being debated in the Senate, which is the final hurdle before it will be likely passed and made into law.

The Bill will pass and become law because the Australian Labor Party has failed to oppose any piece of legislation that relates to “national security”, including the Data Retention Bill. This is despite hundreds of submissions opposing the Data Retention Bill being submitted by legal experts and civil liberty organisations, to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The Greens are the only major political party opposing Data Retention, along with a handful of independents.

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The Data Retention laws will force Telecommunication companies to keep your data for a period of two years. This means that any “ enforcement agency” can access metadata, without a warrant, and for any investigative purpose. “Enforcement agencies is not limited to the police, but can include agencies such as your local council, the RSPCA,  Workcover NSW or the Office of State revenue to name a few. There is no restriction that access to the data be undertaken only when investigating serious crime. Your data may not only be accessed by the police because you’re a terrorist suspect, but it may be subpoenaed, for example, in family or civil litigation proceedings.

What is wrong with Data Retention?

There has been no evidence presented to justify the need or proportionality of the data retention laws, as well as finalising exactly how much this mandatory data retention regime will cost. It has been estimated that the regime will cost at least $300 million, which taxpayers are likely to have to foot the bill. We will be paying for the pleasure of being under surveillance. Australia is bucking the international trend of data retention and we will become only the second country in the world to have a data retention period of 2 years. Research shows that data retention does not make countries safer from acts of terrorism or serious crime.

The Australian Federal Police has already admitted that they have accessed the data of journalists in order to find out who their sources were. The data retention regime, even with the amendments proposed by the Australian Labor Party, will not have sufficient safeguards for journalists or whistle blowers. “The warrant system being proposed will be completely ineffective because it means that the journalist or the media organisation will not have an opportunity to appear before the person issuing the warrant to argue their case in the public interest, “Independent Senator Mr Nick Xenophon said. “Unless you have an American-style system, our closest ally, where journalists and media organisations have the right to appear before the attorney-general and his office in order to argue the case for the public interest – then journalists, as a profession, will be stuffed when it comes to protecting their sources.”

What does it mean for everyday Australians?

The proposed data retention laws are the most frightening and undemocratic laws to be passed by the Abbott Government. Mass surveillance on every single Australian will be permitted, regardless of whether they have committed a crime, with the costs of this surveillance being pushed onto the general public. This is a clear invasion of privacy, as every “foot you step with your mobile in your hand can be tracked, from the living room, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, to the mailbox. He will know when you ring your mother, text your spouse or send a photo to your kids”. To say that Meta Data includes only “the envelope and not the contents inside the envelope” as Attorney General George Brandis stated on Sky News last year, is wrong. Your Meta Data, generated by your smartphone or internet usage, can be incredibly revealing. It can include websites you have visited, emails you have sent or received, your location, any purchases you have made online or any online searches you have made. If you made a phone call as you walked past a brothel or a hotel, or you took a sick day off work but you were actually in Melbourne watching the Cricket, your data will show your “location”. Your “electronic existence” reveals a lot about where you were, who you were talking to and for how long. Now imagine that being subpoenaed for a family law or civil litigation matter.

There will also be a chilling effect on our public discourse and on press freedoms, both of which are fundamental for a healthy democracy and key to being informed about domestic and international issues.

What can you do?

Hold both the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party accountable for supporting such a gross invasion of privacy, which will not make us any safer against serious crimes. Whether that is through your vote in the upcoming state election, or by contacting the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, the honourable Bill Shorten on (02) 6277 4022. You can also support organisations such as the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, who continue to oppose any curtailing of privacy.