Monday, December 09, 2013

Australia is a surveillance state: don't let it happen here

Way back in June, we got the first pre-Snowden glimpse of the extent of the US surveillance state, with the admission that the NSA was recording every phone call for later use. It turns out they're not alone: Australia has an identical system, which copies and stores all phone and internet traffic for later mining:

Australia's leading telecommunications company, Telstra, has installed highly advanced surveillance systems to "vacuum" the telephone calls, texts, social media messages and internet metadata of millions of Australians so that information can be filtered and given to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The Australian government's electronic espionage agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, is using the same technology to harvest data flows carried by undersea fibre-optic cables in and out of Australia.

[Image stolen from The Age, linked above]

So, they take it all, mine the metadata for relationship mapping, and access the content whenever they feel like it (because a warrant is no safeguard against spies with a rubber-stamp Minister). And Australia's interception capability law is what allows it all to happen. Under the guise of making ISPS and phone companies "interception capable", they've actually installed a Stasi-style panopticon, right there in a western democracy.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government has just updated our own interception capability law, and amended the GCSB Act to allow them to spy on New Zealanders (and remove any control on the interception of metadata). The purpose of those two law changes is now obvious: the GCSB wants to build a panopticon to keep our digital lives under constant surveillance.

As for how to stop them, the solution is political. Labour is making comforting noises about inquiries and amendments to the GCSB Act and TICS, but that's no longer enough. We need a concrete assurance that the law will be changed to forbid GCSB or any government agency from building such a system - and that if one already exists, that it will be shut down and the hardware publicly destroyed. Our freedom is at stake here, and our politicians need to either defend it, or get out of the way for someone who will.