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Tuesday, 24 March 2015
Page: 2143


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (13:46): The Australian Greens oppose the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014. Several of my Greens colleagues have already commented on this piece of legislation: on how risky, unnecessary and dangerous it is for everyday Australians—not to mention for Australian journalists. This bill is an unnecessary, disproportionate and ineffective means of achieving its stated objective of protecting Australia's national security.

I know that national security is the hot topic in this place—it always is when a Prime Minister is polling badly. It staggers me that the Labor Party has reached the point where they are prepared to stand here and try to sell a position that we all know is more about wanting to show that there is not a glimmer of difference between them and the government on national security issues than it is about proper scrutiny of the legislation—a piece of legislation that is going to fundamentally change the way we assess and manage people's personal data.

This bill risks undermining fundamental aspects of our free society. It jeopardises the ability of journalists to protect their sources from intimidation, from blackmail and from being hunted down because the government of the day does not like the fact that they have blown the whistle. It also provides easy access for hackers to treasure troves of the most private details of people's everyday lives. In the name of protecting them, this legislation is actually putting Australians more at risk. These risks are very real and very serious.

This bill will turn all Australians into suspects by forcing telecommunications companies to store data pertaining to all Australians' telephone calls, emails and other data for two years. The legislation will not require the storage of the content of phone calls and emails—calls will not be recorded, the content of emails will not be recorded and the content of SMS messages will not be recorded—however, the legislation will require telecommunications companies to store the so-called metadata. For example, the legislation will require the storage of details of who you called, when and from where—the physical location and which mobile phone you used at that place. It will store details of who you emailed and when. Make no mistake: if this bill becomes law, it risks fundamentally changing what we understand today to be a free society.

Australians' private lives will become, to a large degree, public. This bill makes a disingenuous distinction between metadata and the substance or content of communications. As experts have made abundantly clear throughout the committee process for this bill—my colleague Senator Ludlam has participated wholeheartedly in that process; he is probably the leading expert on these issues in this place—this is a false dichotomy. Metadata may have been a useful term in the days when telephony made up the lion's share of electronic communication, but, in an age when most Australians live their lives on smartphones, tablets and PCs, that is no longer the case. The details that can be obtained by examining the so-called metadata on a person's electronic device, particularly if you can look at all the metadata from a continuous two-year period, are extraordinary. It is intrusive, it may be embarrassing for some people and it may risk—if that information were to fall into the wrong hands—damage to the person. It may affect their friendships, their working relationships, their employment, their employment prospects and their standing in Australia's online and real-life communities. Evidence of current metadata requests under the current regime shows that a massive number have nothing to do with solving serious crime but instead relate to petty requests by agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Services to track what ordinary Australians—people not suspected of any serious crime—are doing.

So, why the red flag on national security?—because that, of course, pushes buttons. But knowing where a Centrelink recipient is at a particular time when they make a phone call, and knowing who they make it to, is the type of information that we are talking about. And that type of exposure of individuals' private lives is at risk.

Under the new legislation, the Attorney-General will be able to add agencies to the list of agencies able to access metadata. Further, history shows that the data will be hacked and leaked to the internet—there is no way that the government can pretend that they can guarantee that that would not happen—leading to massive privacy breaches. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection have been involved in one of their own scandals of breaching privacy of data, when they accidentally released the names, the numbers, the addresses, the ages and the nationalities of over 10,000 asylum seekers here in Australia.

Who, overwhelmingly, accessed that data?—governments and sources with international IP addresses. That put those 10,000 people who were seeking asylum and protection from their own countries at even more risk because it revealed that they were in Australia seeking protection. That is just one example of a current system that has gone wrong, not to mention what will happen when every single Australian will be subjected to having their metadata stored for two years. Just imagine the risk there would be if that type of information fell into the wrong hands.

There is a real risk—there has been some talk about this recently—that this legislation will lead to undermining the anonymity of journalists' sources. In this context, I am particularly concerned about the effect that this legislation will have on the vital work being done by whistleblowers in Australia's detention centres, including our offshore detention centres. As recently as last week, the Moss review demonstrated that the Australian government cannot be trusted to protect asylum seekers and refugees from abuses; nor can the government be trusted to tell the truth about what is going on. This government have already proven that they are more interested in shooting the whistleblower and covering up the crime than in dealing with the issue at hand. This government cannot be trusted with this level of sensitivity of information and data.

The government cannot be trusted to be transparent and accountable with what goes on within government departments. They cannot be trusted—at least, from what we know from the Moss review—to know about and to be in control of what is going on in their own detention centres. Employees working in our abusive and shambolic detention centres, both here and offshore, are already subject to very tight employment contracts and to confidentiality clauses gagging them from disclosing the truth.

The government system forces those people, even when they see wrongdoing, to be quiet about it—to shush and not to speak up—and the only way through this cloud of secrecy is to blow the whistle. And what happens when you blow the whistle? The government puts the AFP onto you and you start being investigated for blowing the whistle—for example, for blowing the whistle on abuse claims in detention centres. That is what we have seen happen as recently as the last few weeks. This government has proven themselves already to be obsessed with secrecy and cover-up. They cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Even when they have the information they cannot be trusted to keep it secure.

If Australian expats working in offshore detention centres cannot be safe from the abuse of surveillance and cannot be protected when they blow the whistle or stand up and report crimes, how on earth can we trust that this government is going to treat the Australian public here on the mainland properly with this type of invasive collection of personal data? These risks are simply unacceptable. They are disproportionate to achieving the bill's objectives. This is because, while ordinary Australian's will be subject to the draconian intrusion into their private lives created by this bill, those who set out to do Australia harm—who really want to talk about national security—will easily remain undetected because they will be able to avoid this type of surveillance.

It staggers me that this piece of legislation is an unsafe and risky joke of the government's. They set out to say that it is about protecting the Australian people. We have no trust that they are able to do that. In fact, the very people that the Australian government tells us we need to be protected from are going to be able to work their way around this legislation in seconds. It is a false dream that is being sold by this government. There is no protection of ordinary Australians from the awful things that somebody might want to unleash on our communities. This does not keep us protected, but it weakens not only the freedoms in our society but the protections for people who have legitimate reason for leaking information, blowing the whistle and calling out bad government decisions.

We know that the Australian government—the immigration department in particular—has already got a number of witch-hunts underway in relation to whistleblowers who work in Australian detention centres. Why on earth they are spending energy on that rather than on the people that the government suggests we need to be protected from is beyond me. This bill does not make Australians safer. This bill puts Australians' lives at further risk. It weakens our ability to have an independent, robust and free society that is underpinned by the ability of journalists, in particular, to keep their sources private, protected and free of intimidation.

Debate adjourned.