‘Wrong and totally unnecessary’ privacy laws must be wound back

By Jerome Doraisamy|18 February 2020
Alice Drury

Laws that require telecommunication companies to keep records of every single Australian’s phone calls, text messages and movements for at least two years go too far and need to be fixed, argues one senior professional.

Speaking last week to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security – which is conducting a review of the controversial mandatory data retention scheme which has been in place since 2017 – Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Alice Drury said the laws must be amended to prevent the indiscriminate invasion of people’s privacy.

“What’s at stake here is our ability to go about our lives without feeling like we’re constantly being watched,” she argued.

“Under these laws, details of where every single one of us goes, every phone call we make and every single text message we send are stored by private corporations for over two years. This data is collected about every single one of us, and 87 different government agencies have made over 350,000 requests to access it – they could have accessed your private information without you ever being told.

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“It is wrong and totally unnecessary to effectively spy on every single person in the country. These laws go way too far and need to be wound back.”

Ms Drury said the current laws had also been used by police to secretly access journalists’ metadata at least 78 times.

“We need journalists to expose corruption and government wrongdoing – a free press is absolutely essential to our democracy. But journalists can’t do their jobs if they’re constantly worried about being spied on and having their confidential sources exposed without even being told,” she posited.

At the time of introducing the laws, Ms Drury continued, the federal government said that people’s metadata would only be accessed by a small number of law enforcement agencies for the purpose of investigating serious crime, but in reality, she noted, 87 different agencies ranging from taxi oversight bodies to local councils have made over 350,000 applications to access people’s private information.

HRLC made several recommendations to fix the laws in its submission to the committee, in particular: “access to metadata should be restricted to law enforcement agencies in connection with serious crimes, rather than being given to hordes of government agencies in relation to minor things; a warrant should be required to access metadata to ensure there is independent oversight of the regime; access to journalist and public interest whistleblower metadata should be prohibited except in limited circumstances”.

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Ms Drury said the unfair intrusion from corporations and government authorities into people’s private lives, was yet another reason why Australia needs a Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

“The reality is that powerful corporations and governments don’t always respect the rights of individual people and communities,” she said.

“We need to create an Australian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that ensures everyone is treated fairly and with respect and dignity. These are the types of values that should guide government decisions, policies and law making.”

‘Wrong and totally unnecessary’ privacy laws must be wound back
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