Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 18 September 1987
Page: 362

Mr BLUNT(3.33) —I am very pleased to be able to speak, if only briefly, on the Privacy Bill 1986 and the Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1986, which are important Bills. To date we have heard the ramblings of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and many Government members about certain academic aspects of the Privacy Bill. I will draw the attention of this House to what it really means and what we are really talking about. This legislation fits hand in glove with the Government's proposal to photograph and number every man, woman and child in Australia. This legislation is meant to reassure some people in the Australian community that, when they are numbered and photographed and their photograph is digitised and stored away on the Big Brother computer, everything will be fine because only selected public servants will have access to it.

That may be true. It may be true that we will have to have a certain security clearance or grading to go into the file, we may have to have an access number, such as No. 234567-that may in fact be the Prime Minister's number or even the number of the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel (Mrs Kelly), who is at the table-and we may leave a tail indicating that we have accessed that information. But the Government has not said that once we have accessed that information and we have it on hard copy-it is not longer on electronic disc but on hard copy; that is, it is printed out on a piece of paper-there is absolutely no restriction on our taking it to the nearest photocopier, putting it on that photocopier, selecting six, 10 or 150 copies and distributing those copies anywhere we like. I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments at the conclusion of this debate as to how the Government intends to control access to photocopiers by people who have access to the data file because I think it is a very important consideration. It is all very well to talk about whether we can get into the information in the first place but how do we control what people do with it once they have it?

A lot of nonsense has been talked about how we can build a super-secure system because we have seen how super-secure systems fall down. I remember reading in newspapers recently about how teenagers aged 14 in America-computer hackers, obviously, very intelligent young people-have bought equipment, much the same as is sold by Dick Smith, through mail order catalogues and have been able to crack various bank codes and transfer money into their own accounts. They have actually been able to crack the hotline between Washington and the Soviet Union. The latest thing that I have read about is that some West German computer experts have actually been able to crack the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) computer system. NASA deals with some very sensitive and high technology material and it has a very sophisticated security system. On a scale of 1 : 10 it probably has a security system that rates 9.5 yet it has been broken into.

The Prime Minister and the members of this Government ask us to believe that they will make the telecommunications network more secure than the NASA system. I represent the far north coast of New South Wales and I frequently have to use the subscriber trunk dialling system. I would like $1 for every crossed line I have ever had. We are talking about the ability to get into the telecommunications network.

The Government has been talking about dedicated lines. Let me tell honourable members exactly what a dedicated line is. It is a line which is part of the communications network. I guess in symbolic terms it is a line that runs parallel with a line that takes a telephone conversation but this line is used for data transmission. It does not carry voices, it carries electronic impulses. Those electronic impulses will refer to the data that will be on the computer, such as the identity and the other characteristics of every man, woman and child in Australia. This line is not in a separate trench and it is not a particular or unique network. The Australian Telecommunications Commission has not suddenly decided that it will spend billions of dollars digging holes around Australia in which to put this line. It is part of its communications network and in some cases it might even be part of the microwave link. It will have an encryption device on it which is just like a scrambler on a telephone that messes up the electronic signals, so that if someone goes into the line without having a de-encryption device the information will not make a lot of sense to that person.

The Prime Minister, on a number of occasions in this place, has put great store on these encryption devices for his electronic data transmission. I inform the House and everybody listening to the debate that Ted Turner, a New Zealand electronics millionaire, who has just challenged the San Diego Yacht Club to a race in maxi-yachts, made his money selling de-encryption devices-quite cheaply too, for only a couple of hundred dollars. These devices are available literally in an electronics mail order catalogue. They can be bought and plugged into a system and some of them are sophisticated enough actually to search through the pattern and work out how to de-encrypt-that is, decode-the data into which they have been plugged. Of course, we are relying on the technical expertise and, dare I say it, the reliability of the Telecom Australia network to protect the identity of all Australians.

Something occurred to me the other day when I learnt that the electronic data that will be stored will contain a digitised photograph. I have had some experience with computers. I have installed a couple of systems myself and I am well aware of what happens when one gets what is called in the trade, finger errors. They are punching errors and they occur when young ladies or young men who are actually including this information on the electronic disc, or however it is being stored, hit the wrong button. We are talking about a digitised photograph. We have in this record a name, a number and a few other bits of data plus the photograph. If the person involved is distracted, hits the wrong button and puts the wrong photograph next to that information, pity help the person concerned. The computer will say that No. 3456 has blond hair, but if the wrong photograph is put next to that number I do not really know how one would go about proving that one was that person. The computer will decide whether characteristics correspond to a digitised photograph. We will have the devil's own job proving who is who in that situation because the computer will have the benefit of the doubt. The computer will be the basis for testing information. I suppose what a person could do is get his mother or father or maybe the 50 or 60 other people who know him to come along to bear witness that in fact the photograph stored on the computer is wrong. I think the potential for that sort of error is quite significant.

I wonder when people will start talking about the possibility of what amounts to clerical errors. We will have 16 million files. Those files will be interrelated. We will have to relate fathers and mothers to their children. This already is part of the Medicare system. I wonder how far this system will go. I remember the then Minister for Health, the present Minister for Community Services and Health (Dr Blewett), saying categorically at the time the Medicare card was introduced that it would not be the first step towards an identification system. I am pleased that it was not because there are 20,000 more Medicare cards than there are people. However, it was in fact a trial run for the ID card system. I wonder whether we can believe anything we are told by the Minister for Community Services and Health or, in fact, anything we are told by the Government in relation to the ID system. Obviously the system has tremendous potential for problems.

We are talking about how the card will be used. The Government sets great store by the fact that there is nothing in the Bill that requires a person to carry the card. I say that what sets out to be a maximum standard for identification will very quickly become a minimum standard for identification. Everybody will be looking for our ID card. Everybody, including the bank and the Bankcard people and the store, if we went to open a store account, and the Totalisator Agency Board, if we want to open a betting account, will be looking for our ID card. The list will go on and on. While we may not be required to carry the card, we will not be able to do much without it. American Express has realised what that is about. It says, `Don't leave home without it'. I will be interested to see whether when the Government spends $2m of taxpayers' money telling us why we need to be numbered and photographed it will include that American Express line. I am quite sure that American Express would lend it to the Government. The line `Don't leave home without it' will apply to the card, because if you do leave home without it you could be in trouble.

When the Minister sums up in this debate I would be interested to hear his comment on what the Government will do in regard to replacing cards. I have a tendency to put my shirts in the washing machine with things in the pockets. Those things come back rather mangled and unreadable. I wonder what will happen when quite a few Australians mangle the ID card and that card becomes illegible and unreadable by a computer terminal. How quickly will that card be replaced? I do not know how the cards will be issued. I guess we will get our letter in the letterbox asking us to come in to be photographed and to bring our birth certificate, marriage certificate and everything else. I guess we will go in dutifully to be photographed and numbered and will be given the card. If we are in the first wave of 16 million people to be given the card and we take it away and somehow lose, destroy or mangle it, thus needing a new one, how quickly will we get that new card? I wonder whether we will be charged for that new card and how much it will cost. If we habitually lose our card, that is, if we are absent-minded like some people and lose or mangle a card a couple of times a year, will there be some sort of penalty for replacing the card?

Of course, the potential exists for some sort of civil disobedience campaign. People who are opposed to the card could quite easily burn it. We could have card burning demonstrations. We could probably organise 50,000 or 60,000 people to gather in the Sydney Domain, or even on the lawns outside Parliament House, to burn their cards. The next day we could go to the Medicare office, or wherever it is we have to go to be photographed and renumbered, and ask for a new card. I wonder how the system could cope with that. I wonder whether, as happened in New South Wales with Barrie Unsworth and some people who were proposing to pay their bridge toll in cents, there will be draconian penalties for deliberately destroying a card. I wonder whether the burning of a card in an act of civil disobedience will be penalised. I wonder whether if we do that habitually there will be a record on our file to say that we have destroyed more than one ID card in the past. I wonder what the consequences for doing that will be.

I think it is a stack of nonsense to talk about protecting privacy. It was only late last year that we learnt that the entire records of the Department of Social Security in Victoria were for sale. Someone had managed to go in, perhaps one weekend, and to push the relevant button on the computer and get the records. It was only recently that we learnt that the Canadian tax files had been stolen. Someone put those files in a brief case and walked out of the office one Friday afternoon.

Debate interrupted.