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 Web snooping policy shrouded in secrecy

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Posts : 236
Join date : 2010-05-23

PostSubject: Web snooping policy shrouded in secrecy   Thu 17 Jun 2010 - 7:22

The federal government is hiding controversial plans to force ISPs to store internet activity of all Australian internet users - regardless of whether they have been suspected of wrongdoing - for law-enforcement agencies to access.

Political opponents and other critics of the scheme have described the draft policy as "alarming" and accused the government of going "on a fishing expedition for as much data on the public as they can get". One ISP executive has described the plan as "a nanny state gone totally insane".

The Attorney-General's Department has been holding consultations with industry about implementing a "data retention regime", similar to that adopted by the European Union after terrorist attacks several years ago.

Reports last week suggested data that ISPs would be required to store included contents of communications such as web browsing history.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland denied web browsing histories would be stored, saying the government was only seeking to identify "parties to a communication", such as senders and receivers of emails and VoIP calls.

However, it is difficult for the public to get a clear picture of the policy because the government has sworn all parties to secrecy.

Peter Coroneos, chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, criticised the government for not being transparent and open with the public about its intentions. Coroneos said he was forbidden by confidentiality agreements from discussing any details of draft proposals he has been provided.

"The decision at this stage to keep the process under wraps is the decision of the government. It's not the decision of the industry," he said in a phone interview.

"We still argue that there be an open and transparent process here."

Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam also criticised the lack of transparency, saying in a phone interview he had a researcher investigating the scheme to "try and work out how it fits in to the government's supposed grave concerns and fears about online privacy".

"To me there seems to be some profound contradictions going on there," Senator Ludlam said, adding that the policy "on first glance looks quite alarming".

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has recently fired barbs at Facebook and Google over privacy failures and their alleged disregard for the sanctity of users' personal information.

Colin Jacobs, spokesman for the online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said the government appeared to be trying to access whatever passes through any ISP in this country, while displaying "no regard whatsoever for our privacy or our civil liberties".

"What has emerged in recent days has been a clear picture of a government on a fishing expedition for as much data on the public as they can get," Jacobs said.

"It's not just a fishing expedition, it's casting a driftnet for the communications of all Australians regardless of whether they have ever been suspected of the slightest wrongdoing.

"Combined with the censorship policy, a pretty unhappy picture is emerging of this government's attitude towards our digital lives."

Some commentators have said the copyright lobby would inevitably try to use the scheme to hunt down and prosecute illegal file sharers, but Sabiene Heindl, head of the music industry's anti-piracy arm, Music Industry Piracy Investigations, said: "We have no present intention to do that."

McClelland's spokesman defended the lack of transparency, saying the government had consulted broadly with industry about the plan but "it would not be appropriate to disclose policy discussions which are the subject of consultations with the industry".

"These consultations have involved identifying the parties to a communication, where and when that communication is made and the communication's duration," the spokesman said.

"It does not include the content of a communication such as people's conversations or contents of an internet banking session, for example."

It is understood that earlier reports that web browsing history would be included were based on earlier drafts of the policy which stipulated content such as this would be logged and stored. The government appears to have since stepped down on this aspect of the scheme, although nothing is set in stone.

ZDNet.com.au, which originally reported that web browsing history would be logged, has stood by its original report, quoting sources yesterday as saying claims that URL history would not be retained were "not accurate".

"The government has not as yet made any decision in relation to a data retention regime. However, any arrangement will strike the appropriate balance between individual privacy, commercial imperatives and community expectations that unlawful behaviour is investigated and prosecuted," McClelland's spokesman said.

Coroneos, who is able to comment more generally on similar data retention regimes adopted by EU states, said the industry in Australia already had a track record of assisting law-enforcement agencies and questions the need for a "blanket" regime covering the communications of all internet users.

"[Users] have legitimate privacy expectations and assume that their online communications and browsing activities are private unless they've been clearly informed otherwise," he said.

"Secondly, there's a question of whether the harm being being addressed is outweighed by the economic or social burden of the measures proposed. Are we cracking a nut with a sledgehammer here?"

Coroneos also raised concerns about security of the information that will be stored by ISPs and the expected high costs of implementing any scheme, which would inevitably be passed on to end users.

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Posts : 2
Join date : 2010-06-17

PostSubject: Re: Web snooping policy shrouded in secrecy   Thu 17 Jun 2010 - 7:32

Very interesting.

But are they doing this for the right reasons?

What are the pros and cons?
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