The Federal Government has proposed that new laws be introduced to force telecommunication companies to retain two years of metadata records.
What’s metadata? “Metadata includes the phone number from which a call is made, the number to which it is made, the identity of the owners of those numbers, the location of the caller and the recipient and the time and duration of a call”, says journalist James Massola. “Metadata also includes the internet protocol address of a website visited but not which web pages have been visited on a given website”.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has likened it to collecting the information on the “front of an envelope” but not the contents of the letter.
There is reason to suspect that the government is also cooperating with the American National Security Agency to go beyond the bounds of the law. As journalist Glen Greenwald has pointed out using confidential material leaked by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Australian government requested help from the NSA to spy on Australians. The NSA this year admitted that some of its analysts had violated the US Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Critics have argued that collecting data on millions of Australians without a warrant assumes everyone is a criminal and invades their privacy.
This is but one instance of the increasing criminalisation of daily life. Another example is the government proposal to reverse the onus of proof for Australians returning from trips to the Middle East. Under the proposal, it would be up to individuals travelling to designated areas to show they didn’t partake in terrorist activities while overseas. Senator David Leyonhjelm got it right when he said “The idea is you commit an offence unless you can prove you’re innocent, it just goes against all of our rights and freedoms as a free society.’’