As of October 13, 2015, Australia has passed into law some of the most restrictive data retention laws in the Western world. If you look at them, and understand what they mean, you’ll wonder if this is the type of law coming out of repressive regimes like China, or Syria.
The cost to ISPs could be quite high, causing them to have to raise their prices. The cost to consumers could also be high as any time a large amount of data is stored needlessly, someone comes along and hacks it. Despite the high costs, the retention laws can be easily and cheaply circumvented. We’ll look at all of this now.
Why did Australia create these new data retention laws?
As has been done for centuries, and with increasing frequency now, a government official cried “There are bad guys! We’ll do this to protect you!” while claiming a restriction on your freedom was in your best interest. Your current Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, actually introduced this bill when he was the communications minister.
To quote him:
“No responsible government can sit by while those who protect us lose access to vital information, particularly in the current high threat environment.”
‘You’re under attack! But I’ll protect you by following your every digital movement.’ Take that with as many grains of salt as you require.
What types of communications, and how much, are covered?
The data retention in Australia laws cover your metadata from all movements online. This is a tracking of who you talk to, when you talk to them, how often you talk to them, etc. What is does not cover is the contents of the message. This is not tracked or retained by law.
To look at specifics, the Australian Data Retention law requires the retention of your:
- IP address
- Time connected to, and time spent on, the Internet
- Amount or volume of your uploads and downloads
- Location data
This information is stored for a period of two years. It is collected regardless of whether or not you’re suspected of a crime. It is a mass surveillance tool that targets the guilty and the innocent alike.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 12, 2015
What’re the problems with the new Australian Data Retention laws
While the content of messages are not retained, the activities that people get up to are. The data which is retained gives people a clear picture of who you are, what you do online and with your smartphone, and where you spend your days. This can be a problem because of:
- Hackers can access it, steal it, and sell it.
- The information can be requested for much more minor infractions than the terrorism and child protection issues that are trumped up time and again.
- Stalkers with hacking skills can use it to track where you are and find you.
Not only that, but there will be a MASSIVE cost to the ISPs who will have to retain all this information. Servers aren’t free. Internet security agents protecting that information don’t work for free, and are already in short supply. There are allowances for helping the ISPs to get government funds, but guess where that money comes from? Taxes. You. Even if your ISP never increases its prices due to this extra cost it’s still your tax money being used.
The big, big issue that no one is thinking about is how easy it is to get around these laws. Encryption. Encrypting your Internet traffic. Using messaging apps to encrypt your text messages.
What can protect you from the Australian Data Retention laws
This multi, multi million dollar data retention in Australia project can be defeated for as little as $3.33/month with the cheapest VPN we review: Private Internet Access. Best of all, they don’t retain any data at all either!
To quote Green Party Leader Senator Scott Ludlam:
— Scott Ludlam (@Scottludlam) October 12, 2015
He was admitting, publicly, that you and anyone else can easily defeat these laws with encryption via a VPN! Even the Prime Minister himself has admitted to using encryption tools to hide from the very laws he’s enacting! To be like him, you can try using encrypted phone apps instead of the SMS and cellular network:
Remember that these are not meant to encrypt your Internet traffic. You will still need a VPN to encrypt and hide all of the information that they will be storing from there.
Parting thoughts from Snowden…
Richelieu: "Give me six lines written by the most honest man and I will find in them something to hang him." How many tweets have you sent?
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 13, 2015
Feature image via 3dkombinat / Shutterstock