Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

The death of privacy

Anthony Caruana | June 22, 2016
The collective paranoia of successive governments is creating (or perhaps has already created) a society where we are prepared to give up our personal privacy in order to make ourselves slightly more secure.

There's little doubt the Australia I was born and raised in has died. When I was a lad, living on a busy main road in Melbourne's east, we used to leave the key in the Lockwood on the front door to make it easier to get in and out. We played footy in the front yard during winter, cricket on the driveway in the summer and routinely spoke to anyone who wandered past the front fence while we played - and those were often interesting interactions as we lived just a few doors away from the local pub!

That was 40 years ago and times have changed. The pubs are almost all gone, replaced by pokies venues and bistros. We've been conditioned to be wary of strangers and I don't see that many kids playing outside anymore.

But something else has changed. We've become suspicious and paranoid about the whole world. There have always been 'bad' people. And it's true that the internet has lubricated the machines of evil used by child predators and organised crime. But the collective paranoia of successive governments is creating (or perhaps has already created) a society where we are prepared to give up our personal privacy in order to make ourselves slightly more secure.

My favourite literary and cinema genre is the dystopian future. Not post-apocalyptic, but what happens when a functioning society either falls apart or becomes so transformed as to become almost a parody of its former self. I read Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World back in high school and both influenced me immensely.

I recently read Robert J Sawyer's Hominid trilogy. In this, humans managed to accidentally connect to an alternative earth where Neanderthals became the dominant species. Among the many differences between the human and Neanderthal societies was surveillance. Every Neanderthal was implanted with a device that recorded everything they did. There was no privacy.

There was almost no crime (hooray!). The author, very cleverly, made it obvious that while there were huge benefits in that level of mass surveillance, the costs were immense.

Last year, the Federal Government passed laws mandating telecommunications companies retain telecommunications metadata. That's not the content of messages, but data about the communications. For example, a phone call wouldn't be recorded (without a warrant) but who the call was between, when it was made and how long it lasted would be recorded.

At the time, we were told this law was essential in the fight against serious crimes. The Attorney General's department's FAQ says:

"Metadata plays a central role in almost all serious criminal and national security investigations, which is why it's so critical that our law enforcement and security agencies continue to have the ability to lawfully access this kind of data in connection with their investigations. For example, child exploitation investigations rely heavily on access to metadata as perpetrators primarily share information online."

 

1  2  3  Next Page 

Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.