Digital Rights Watch, an organisation with the aim of upholding digital rights, yesterday released its State of Digital Rights Report. The Report focuses on and makes recommendations about digital privacy in Australia including metadata retention.
The Report is endorsed by several human rights organisations, including the Australian Privacy Foundation, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Amnesty International Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre and Save the Children Australia.
In making more than 24 recommendations, the Report takes particular aim at the Australian Federal Government’s mandatory data retention scheme, advocating for its abolition. The scheme requires telecommunication service providers to retain metadata for 2 years, which can then be accessed at any time without a warrant by law enforcement and security agencies. Metadata is not the communication itself, but details of the communication, such as the subscriber name, the source and destination of the communication, the location of the device making the communication and the time it was made. Arguably, metadata can often provide more information than the content of the communication itself.
Introduced in 2015, the regime “risks creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Australia and violates the right to privacy” says Lizzie O’Shea, a contributor to the Report. The Attorney General’s Department website states that metadata is used in the course of nearly every serious criminal or national security investigation.
The Report also argues for the introduction of a number of measures to improve data protection for Australians including introducing a statutory cause of action for serious invasions of privacy. Recognising the inherent tension between maintaining the privacy of individuals online and protecting the safety of the community, the Report aims to promote transparency of government action and limit it to what is necessary. Given the potential utility to a government, and law enforcement, of having such information available for it to interrogate, it is unlikely that we will see any rollback of the mandatory retention laws anytime soon.