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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 are some important things to note in this explanation.

  1. The focus is on serious crime and national security investigations.
  2. It's critical for law enforcement and security.
  3. The access to the data is lawful.
  4. The emotive use of child exploitation to justify the need for this law.

So, you'd expect only law enforcement and security agencies investigating serious crimes to have warrantless access to the data, wouldn't you? Well, more than 60 agencies have access to the data.

Now, we have six states and 10 federal territories, with local police forces. There's the Australian Federal Police, ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) and ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service). By my estimations, that makes about nine police and security agencies. You can add perhaps another handful involved in military intelligence.

That leaves a pretty large list of other agencies. You can read the full list here. But, among some of the more 'interesting' agencies are a number of Federal Government departments such as Health, Human Services, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the National Measurement Institute. State agencies such as Harness Racing NSW, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Queensland also have access.

Don't forget, access to this metadata does not require a warrant from a court.

Late last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced that the census being held on 9 August 2016 will not be anonymous. It's important to remember the official name of the census is Census of Population and Housing.

Every census, since the first one taken in 1828, has been anonymous. Although you submit your responses in an envelope that identifies you, that envelope would be separated from the census responses and destroyed, effectively anonymising the data.

Rather than being used in the aggregate, which is how past census data was used, a data point can be directly attributed to a household.

The ABS says names and addresses will be kept, but that identifying information will be obscured by 'anonymous keys'. No identifiable, private or confidential data would ever be shared with third parties or seen internally by ABS employees.

If the ABS can't see and use the data, why keep it? This makes no sense unless the government has an ulterior motive.

For almost all of my adult life, I've believed that our governments have, by and large, acted in what they believe to be the country's best interest. I haven't always agreed with the policies of both sides of politics, but I have always been able to see reason in their actions.

This latest move, to keep personal information pertaining to the census, has no other purpose that I can fathom other than to profile individuals. This year, online forms will be the default.


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