Australian Mandatory Data Retention Abused Just Weeks After Rules Are Put In Place

from the because-that's-what-happens-with-data-retention dept

We've been talking about Australian politicians' odd obsession with passing ever more draconian data retention rules for years now. As you may recall, the politicians pushing for this appeared to have absolutely no clue what it actually entailed. Just a few months ago, we wrote about reports about how Australia's data retention laws had been abused to spy on journalists and their sources. While some parts of the law went into effect a year and a half ago, it appears some parts just went into effect a few weeks ago. These new rules require every ISP to retain metadata on all online communications for at least two years. And... it took just about two weeks before the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were forced to admit that it had used the info to spy on journalists (again). They insist this was a mistake, of course.

"Earlier this week, the AFP self-reported to the Commonwealth Ombudsman that we had breached the Telecommunications Interception Act. The breach ... related to an investigator who sought and was provided access to the call records of a journalist without the prior authority of a journalist information warrant," AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin said on Friday afternoon.

"No investigational activity has occurred as a result of us being provided with that material. Put simply, this was human error. It should not have occurred, the AFP take this very seriously, and we take full responsibility for a breach in the Act. I also want to say there was no ill will, malice, or bad intent by the officers involved who breached the Act. Quite simply, it was a mistake that should not have happened."

Even if this truly was an accident, it highlights why mandatory data retention is so dangerous. That information will be accessed, and not always for good reasons. There's a reason why we don't allow law enforcement to search our stuff willy nilly without a warrant, and mandatory data retention completely flips this whole concept on its head for no good reason. Such information will almost always be abused -- and sometimes pretty damn quickly after it's available.

Filed Under: australia, data retention, isps, journalists, privacy, surveillance

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 2 May 2017 @ 8:21am


    It is that, as citizens, we have wholly and completely accepted the idea that people with a specific job title (journalist) have more rights and privileges than everyone else.

    Not rights and privileges. We accept that they have more protections than everyone else.

    We accept that police have a few legal and physical protections that ordinary citizens do not. This is necessary to protect them from the criminals they are tasked to combat. Elected officials often get extra legal and physical protections too.

    To prevent abuse and corruption there are checks and balances. We accept that journalists are one of the big ones.

    We accept that journalists can keep their sources secret, because those sources are often whistleblowers telling of abuse and corruption. We accept that because journalists speak truth to power, they and their sources need protection from that power.

    Yes, the age of blogs casual journalism has blurred the definition of journalist. But that's only made the need to protect journalists more important:

    Consider the movie Spotlight, about the Boston Globe's investigation of systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests. It's been said that if the story happened today, it wouldn't have been reported. The newspaper, with a much smaller subscription base and ability to absorb legal expenses, would have backed down in the face of Church opposition.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.