From today, every phone call you make, every text message you send and every email you write will compulsorily be tracked by the government agencies under a new metadata retention scheme.
Yes, you heard right. If you are a citizen of Australia with a mobile phone and an Internet connection, your digital activity will be recorded.
As the government’s new data retention law comes into effect, the Australian telecommunications companies will now keep large amounts of your telecommunications metadata for two years.
The law has allegedly been implemented to protect the country against organized terrorist and criminals, like every government agencies including the United States’ intelligence agency NSAand British intelligence agency GCHQ claim.
This new scheme vastly expands the retention of personal data, which has triggered a debate among Australians as it is a major invasion of privacy.
WHAT IS BEING COLLECTED?
Until today, data retention by mobile phone and Internet providers was inconsistent. Data about who called or texted whom was generally stored by major companies for billing purposes.
However, much more data will now be held, for a mandatory period of 2 years.
What Phone Data is Retained?
- Who you called
- Who you texted
- Missed numbers
- Time and Date of calls and SMS
- Duration of calls
- Your Location at the time of call or SMS
- Device data
What Internet Data is Retained?
- Your IP address
- Location and geographical data
- The volume of your uploads and downloads
- Time and duration of your web connections
- Your email data including emailed Date, Time and Attachment data volumes (If you use an Australian email service)
- While not mandatory, some internet providers may record the IP address of the sites you visit, mainly your Internet history
The Australian government emphasized that the type of data collected is only Metadata, and not the content of calls and messages.
However, civil liberties advocates have argued that the metadata, in an aggregate, paints a very accurate picture of a user’s life. Like iiNet said, “If you have the metadata, you have the content.”
Metadata might seem like it does not give much away, and one shouldn’t bother about, but with the help of metadata, it will be no harder for even the local police to figure out if you called a phone sex service for half an hour at 2 am.
For many, the new scheme seems to be a great step towards protecting the country from terrorist, but many believe it is the biggest invasion of privacy in the history of Australia and a massive security risk as well.
Who can Access My Data?
Besides Australian security agencies and law enforcement agencies, the collected data of citizens can be accessed by even local police station all the way up to the Australian Federal Police and ASIO.
While child abuse and terrorism investigations are often cited, the new scheme will allow the local police to request data for much more minor crimes.
Though Journalist are still on the safer side, as it will still take a court warrant to access a journalist’s data in an attempt to identify their sources, but that proceedings will take place in private and without their knowledge.
Also, no warrant is required for government agencies to gather data belonging to its own employees for contact with journalists.
How Can I Circumvent the Data Retention Scheme?
Its easy to circumvent the new data retention scheme by Australian government. You can follow these simple instruction to protect your personal data to be tracked by the government:
- Instead of using the cellular network, use free apps to make calls or send text messages. For e.g., TextSecure for encrypted text messaging, RedPhone for encrypted phone calls and Signal for both encrypted messaging and phone calls.
- Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that help hide your Internet traffic by encrypting the connection. For the guide, check this.
- Use non-Australian email, video, and social media platforms, such as Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook and Skype, as these are exempted from some of the data retention requirements. (Note: Government will be able to see that you use these services, but they won’t know whom you’re talking to)
- Use Public Wi-Fi hotspots. We usually don’t advice to use public hotspots but Australians can consider using public hotspots as they aren’t included in the data retention scheme.