George "Orwell" Brandis, our Attorney General authored the Data Retention Act in 2015 and it came into effect today. The law forces internet providers and telecommunications companies to keep and store information generated by customers calling, texting or using the internet. The actual conversation or text content is not stored, but I woudl like to see proof of that since they are in the same data stream.
If you don't want the Government to be able to see your online activity, then you better get a virtual private network (VPN), digital rights advocates say.
- Advocates say a VPN gives people the ability to have an anonymous surfing profile
- They say that is 'one of your rights under a right to privacy'
- They do warn people to be careful as they are entrusting their traffic to the VPNs
Thursday was the deadline for internet providers to be compliant with Australia's metadata retention scheme, which was passed two years ago.
The law forces internet providers and telecommunications companies to keep and store information generated by customers calling, texting or using the internet.
Tim Singleton Norton, a privacy advocate with Digital Rights Watch, said digital rights advocates who campaigned heavily against the laws were calling "get a VPN day".
"[A] VPN is probably one of the best ways to try and get around the idea of your internet provider providing all of the metadata engagement that you do online to your government," he said.
"It allows you to have anonymous surfing profile, which is one of your rights under a right to privacy."
What can the Government see?
Mr Singleton Norton said metadata was all of the information surrounding the content of anything you do online.
"So it's not the actual things you write in your email and text messages and what you're saying in a phone call," he said.
"But it is where you did it from, when you did it, to whom, how often.
"Things like location services, telco towers — it's all the information surrounding those interactions."
How does a VPN protect you?
VPNs provide another layer of security and if set up correctly, can hide online browsing information from internet providers.
Can you trust the VPN?
But saying people should get and use a VPN is one thing, actually doing it is another.
Troy Hunt, an independent security researcher based out of the Gold Coast, said while they do protect people, a VPN needs to be set up and used.
"The reality of it is that as good an idea as a VPN is, there is some overhead to running a VPN," he said.
"So you've got to have it running on each device that you want to protect traffic from.
"There's some latency involved — so you might find your connection is slower.
"So it doesn't really make sense in practical terms to run it every single hour of the day.
"And the trick now is to think about what are the sorts of browsing I might do where privacy is actually a lot more important?"
"What you've got to remember with a VPN is that you are now entrusting your traffic to another party," he said.
"Just last week we saw a dodgy VPN provider that was obviously a scam.
"You're really handing over all your traffic to them to be able to inspect, intercept, [and] possibly inject nasty things into."
Could VPNs aid criminals or terrorists?
For ISPs, complying with the data retention laws is mandatory. But for law enforcement, getting a warrant to access the metadata is not. Mr Singleton Norton said for that reason, getting a VPN was worth it.
"The technology is getting better, it's quite easy to put a VPN on your mobile phones these days."
He rejected concerns that encouraging people to get a VPN could help terrorists or criminals avoid capture or detection.
"In terms of whether or not we're actually aiding and abetting the wrong people, it's the age old question again — is it better to have draconian laws that impede the wider population in order to capture a few?" he said.
"Or is it better to have a rights base approach where we actually ensure that we have freedom of speech and freedom of expression for everyone."
In a statement Attorney-General George Brandis said "metadata is the basic building block in nearly every counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and organised crime investigation".
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