Australian Federal Police Intend To Use Metadata Laws As Inefficiently As Possible

Words by: Jonathon Davidson
Image credit: The Guardian

In the name of protecting the average honest Aussie from the big bad wolf of terrorism, interest in and discussion surrounding proposed metadata retention laws keeps resurfacing just about bi-monthly, to the point where I am extending this sentence only to include more hyperlinks.

While common dialogue protesting metadata retention laws paints the picture of an organised attack on online anonymity carried out by the Australian Government (looking at you Scott Ludlam), comments made yesterday by AFP assistant commissioner Tim Morris paint a very different picture.

Mainly, Australia’s security advisers have got absolutely no fucking clue what they are trying to pass through the House of Representatives.

At the Tech Leaders conference on the 22nd of February, Tim Morris gave comments of support for metadata retention laws in the name of protecting Australians from current terror threats, which is currently described as being “high”, the 3rd highest ranking of severity available via the ‘National Terrorism Public Alert System‘.

The kicker here is the painfully adorable rationale he gave in support of the laws, which reading over is like watching your dear grandmother tell her friends about Blu-Ray.

Tim Morris honestly expects this system to be used only to deal with suspicious individuals on a case-by-case basis – a process that you will notice is laughable and entirely fucking pointless in the face of a nation-wide mandatory data retention scheme.

The fact that so many media platforms are providing the public with “what is metadata?” featurettes paints a fairly apt scene of where the Australian consciousness stands in the face of what these proposed laws actually imply for the future of our society.

Perhaps we prefer to cling to the idea of an organised attack against the privacy of the Australian people, because it’s scarier to contemplate that nobody is in control at all.

“Data … sitting on a carrier’s network is not mass surveillance”, Mr. Morris told the press at the Tech Leaders forum. You may notice that this is exactly what mass surveillance is, but don’t worry – Tim Morris told reporters that the collection of metadata, for example, had been an aid in solving 100% of cases of cybercrime.

No fucking shit, Tim Morris. 

Mr. Morris also suggested that those Australians concerned about proposed laws should remind themselves they are not at risk if they have nothing to hide – an argument which, unfortunately, is actually still considered valid by the people who govern us.

As Bruce Schneier writes in The Eternal Value Of Privacy:

“Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny.”

Of course, the villain of the month changes – pro-retention backers can’t seem to decide whether it’s terrorists or pedophiles that we’re trying to stop.

Metadata excludes the contents of communications. So when Mr. Morris told reporters that “[officers] don’t just sit there looking for interesting things”, he demonstrated his fundamental lack of understanding of what metadata actually pertains to.

If we are honestly expected to believe that a database of every Australian’s metadata (that is your location, your calls, your bank transactions, email recipients and so forth) will be kept on hold and accessed only in the pursuit of rare single individuals after the acquisition of a corresponding warrant, then this truly confirms the absolute sheer ignorance of the collective identity of AFP spokespersons, George Brandis and Mr. Abbott, to name a few.

While Mr. Ludlam’s Gen-Y friendly conjecture against surveillance state culture is almost impossible to side against, a far more startling possibility is that the Government are potentially about to set one massively detrimental precedent in Australian legislation because the senior staff have shithouse computer literacy skills.