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Can Data Storage Be Used to Prevent Crime?

The data we store and the actions we undertake online should be kept private and shared to whom we only give explicit consent. Does that sound fair? The trouble is that isn’t what happens in many countries around the world. We know, especially now after the Snowden revelations, that governments are more than willing to snoop on our data and activity. Some claim this is in the interest of security and to fight crime.

The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently sparked fear when he went on television in early August. The government are currently reviewing their internet privacy regulations and the Prime Minister’s comments to the Nine Network were not taken well.

On the topic of what type of data is going to be stored, Mr. Abbott said that “it's the sites you're visiting, it's not the content, it's the sites [where] you've been.”

Of course, if someone knows the site you have visited then it isn’t difficult to determine the content that was on that page. However, in a subsequent interview the Prime Minister sought to clarify his comments.

“What you generate is content, what the service providers generate is metadata. We do think the metadata should be kept because all of the best security advice is that without this, counter-terrorism work becomes difficult, crime fighting work becomes very difficult,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s office clarified that the web browsing history was not classed as metadata and that the government would need a warrant to look at such information.

As such, the government are defining metadata as information that is produced by a communications system that includes data such as time sent and received, duration and location. This extends to telephone communications, not just the internet.

Mr. Abbott claimed that these proposals were critical for agencies to fight terrorism with. He also said that this data use could be extended to fight crimes in general too.

Some have been claiming that this data retention would cause consumer bills to rise, but the Prime Minister rejected such claims by saying that this is information that is already kept and there would be no price rise.

David Irvine, ASIO boss, described the retention of metadata as “absolutely crucial” in order to monitor and disrupt local terror calls. A government official has also said that the retention “had nothing to do with content, it’s simply identifying information.”

The fact that the Australian government aren’t point-blank viewing all browsing history is good, but that should be a given. The fact that there’s blanket coverage of all Australian citizens ‘metadata’ is slightly worrying and it’s likely a policy that’s here to stay. Globally, monitoring in the name of crime is not a trend.

Perhaps this data monitor will lead to the successful resolution of more crime cases, but it comes at the cost of less privacy for all citizens. Whether this is a worthwhile trade remains to be seen, but many have express distaste online. However, one thing’s for sure is that Prime Minister Abbott will be very careful when discussing technological rulings publically in the future.

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