Speaking about the recently announced data retention proposals at the Govhack 2014 awards, Malcolm Turnbull reassured the assembled geeks that it was all a misunderstanding. Attorney-General George Brandis’ now-viral train wreck attempt to explain what data would be collected was simply incorrect.
Browsing your history is not what the government is interested in. What they want is your source IP addresses – the address you have when you go online. But it’s not information particularly useful to Team Australia in the fight against terrorism.
“Your web surfing history is a matter for you, you’ve all got VPNs anyway – all of you appear to be somewhere in Iowa when you go online, I know that,” Turnbull said, to guffaws from the geek crowd. Data retention schemes of any design are easily defeated through use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, which masks the true source IP address of a user. The targets of a data retention scheme – terrorism and organised crime – are likely to be tech savvy enough to take basic privacy measures. Osama Bin Laden never sent emails from his Pakistani compound – he drafted them offline, sending a minion to an internet café to hit send.
With the terrorists, criminal masterminds, and nerds well clear of any threat posed by data retention, the target is the broader Australian public. Only days prior to the announcement of the data retention policy, Brandis declared that ISPs were not “innocent bystanders” to internet piracy. The same week, Turnbull said the film industry should sue “mums and dads and students” caught downloading content.
The issue is that it’s hard to connect downloaders with the real end users, whose ISPs who are not eager to assist the industry. When downloading a torrent, each user publicly “announces” to a centralised server what their IP address is so that other users can find them, but this address is useless from a legal perspective.
But, should ISPs be required to store data connecting IP addresses to users, it becomes significantly easier to hunt them down in a courtroom. Providers such as iiNet have long fought against such proposals, suggesting the cost to retain the data would run between $60 million and $200 million a year. The measures are not exactly populist, either. But having the data already stored as the by-product of a necessary “national security” policy would make Brandis and Turnbull’s political lives significantly easier.
Internet users hitting up Pirate Bay anytime soon would do well to take Turnbull’s advice and invest in a VPN.