Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Metadata Retention: in which the Prime Minister of Australia says any old thing which pops into his head

The Sydney Morning Herald on 19 February 2015 reported assertions made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott concerning his government's plan to introduce mass telecommunications and information technology surveillance of the Australian population:

The Abbott government's controversial data retention scheme will cost an estimated $300 million to set up, with telecommunications consumers expected to foot almost half the total cost through higher bills.
The government wants legislation passed by March requiring telecommunications companies to store customer metadata for at least two years.
Under the government's proposal, phone and internet firms would be forced to store details such as the time and place of phone calls, and the origin and destination of emails. It does not include the content of communications.
Responding to calls to release the cost of the scheme, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday that it would cost less than one per cent of the estimated $40 billion value of the telecommunications sector to establish.
Mr Abbott said that the price of not storing electronic communication records is "incalculable" and would lead to an "explosion in unsolved crime".
Fairfax Media understands the government's calculations for setting up the scheme are approximately $300 million, based on an industry analysis by professional services group PwC. [my red bolding]

There will be an explosion of unsolved come across the country if Abbott & Co are not allowed to introduce universal surveillance of Australian citizens? 

Surveillance that stores raw digital data about the daily lives of all citizens. Data which federal government security agencies, police and every revenue raising state or federal government agency or statutory authority can access without a warrant.

So if persons committing criminal offences have had the upper hand because there is no mass surveillance to date, why is it that crime has not spiralled out of control before now?

If police need these additional mass surveillance powers to do their job effectively, why do NSW Police currently solve a high percentage of homicides and why was the NSW prison population in 2014 rising without these powers?

If landlines, mobile phones and the Internet are so vital to the commission of major crimes, how is it that I live in an area with a relatively high rate of Internet connection in the home (58% with public access points also available) but stable to lower recorded major criminal offences trends and, New South Wales as a whole showed no significant recorded major offences upward trend in the September Quarter 2014.

If there was thought to be a direct correlation between no mass surveillance and unsolved crime, I suspect the fact that around 62 percent of individuals before NSW local courts already plead guilty in the absence of such surveillance might call that assumption into question.

As would the fact that the number and percentage of criminal convictions are increasing in NSW lower and higher courts without continuous two-year metadata retention being available to police without a warrant.

This may be a somewhat simplistic yardstick used to measure the veracity of the federal government position, but it does indicate the likelihood that Tony Abbott was spouting arrant nonsense for the benefit of the camera.

Prime Minister Abbott also made a National Security Statement on 23 February which included this sentence:

The government's Data Retention Bill – currently being reviewed by the Parliament – is the vital next step in giving our agencies the tools they need to keep Australia safe.

However, access to metadata without a warrant apparently would not have stopped the violent Martin Place siege or kept the seventeen hostages safe during their 16 hour ordeal.  

the perpetrator of this fatal siege was known to national security and police agencies for most of the eighteen years he lived in Australia;
his Internet and social media presence was being monitored and assessed;
there were at least 18 calls from members of the public to the National Security Hotline between 9 -12 December 2014 concerning the offensive nature of the content on his public Facebook page; and
with the exception of the suspension of a website and certain criminal charges before the courts, relevant authorities did not act to contain the perpetrator based on the information in their possession before 15 December 2014 because he was not considered a threat to national security.

This example places into doubt this second reason Tony Abbott recently gave for the need to implement a mass surveillance scheme.

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