When You Crack Open The Surveillance Door, The Food Police Will Want Your Metadata
from the food-for-thought dept
As you may recall, late last year Australia put into effect a wonderfully ambitious data retention law that required ISPs in the country to do… well… something involving data retention. The problems began immediately, with ISPs unsure of exactly when they were supposed to start collecting all of this data, as the law allowed for some to petition to delay implementing the data collection, but the government hadn’t bothered to get back to many of them. Never mind what would happen once this same inept government actually received the mountains of data it had requested.
But those concerns are all about the practical utility of such a law, not the larger concerns over whether this kind of data collection ought to be happening to begin with. To see an example of why a free people shouldn’t allow the government to crack open this door, however, one needs only look again at the law in Australia. What was supposed to be collection chiefly to combat major criminal actions is now a collection that even the food police are trying to get in on. And, yes, I really do mean the food police.
If you are in the business of selling lamb chops, make sure you are weighing them properly: the National Measurement Institute wants warrantless access to Australians’ metadata to help them hunt down supermarkets skimping on portions. The NMI is one of 61 agencies that has applied to the attorney general, George Brandis, to be classed as a “criminal law-enforcement agency” in order to gain warrantless access to telecommunications data.
As part of the government’s assurances that there would be sufficient privacy safeguards, it reduced the number of agencies that could access the data. But agencies could reapply, with the permission of the attorney general, if they were involved in enforcing “serious contraventions” of criminal laws.
Now, this is still in the application phase, so the NMI, a government group tasked with investigating retailers to make sure they’re packaging their goods properly, doesn’t yet have access to Australian’s metadata, but its petition did have to be approved by the attorney general as being relevant to even get that far. This is what happens when you crack open the door: the bulk of government will try to force its way in. Keep in mind that the efficacy of bulk collection practices for combating even terrorism and serious criminal actions is debatable, but now we’re dealing with the food and retail packaging police wanting in on the action? This really should tell you everything you need to know.
Greens senator Scott Ludlam said: “The only saving grace the government was able to claim when they passed it was that they were narrowing the range of agencies that could access the data. On the face of it that was true, and obviously that’s just been blown to pieces.”
Just because slippery slope arguments are almost always lame, that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally apply. It seems on bulk surveillance, they certainly do.