Sunday, June 2, 2013

Privacy Alert: Governments plan to monitor Australians on the Internet

By Jim Osborne

If you were in the 1970′s, and told people that in the not too distant future, that in any major commercial area and in the CBD, everyone would be recorded on video and monitored, they might have thought you to be a conspiracy nut. If today, you said that the government would effectively have the ability to peer into peoples homes through video and view this recorded video at their discretion, they might think of you as an alarmist who has taken George Orwell a little to seriously.
But a discussion paper by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has effectively allowed the government to do that.1 The 61 page discussion paper has proposed reforms to legislation to allow for greater interception of telecommunications. Done under the guise of fighting crime and terrorism, this granting of increased powers of the state over the private sphere is just part of the Labor governments push to treat innocent civilians as criminals, and monitor their activities as if we were scum undeserving of dignity and privacy.
The paper states “Our challenge is to ensure that, as Australia evolves as a 21st century society and economy, our national security capability similarly evolves with high levels of agility and adaptability and continues to meet emerging threats.”. It effectively does little to do this, as law enforcement and intelligence agencies already have the technological means to deal with criminal acts which might use telecommunications as a tool. Instead, the paper proposed reforms to expand “the basis of interception activities”. This involves a push to “establish an offence for failure to assist in the decryption of communications” and “tailored data retention periods for up to 2 years for parts of a data set, with specific timeframes taking into account agency priorities, and privacy and cost impacts”. This effectively allows the state to demand that ISP’s, and other companies which provide telecommunications services to retain data for two years, data that the state may use.
This means all your e-mails, all your online conversations, your SMS’s, your internet activity, VOIP calls, including Skype. If you have had a Skype video conversation with someone, and that data is retained by your ISP, then the state is pursuing the right to have access to it. Essentially, having access to your web cam, which is pretty much the government now intruding into our own homes, hearing and seeing what goes on inside of them.
That the Labor government would consider such an outrageous assault upon our rights isn’t to be unexpected. This is after all the government which wanted to implement the internet “clean feed”, where the state, in a manner to other corrupt, authoritarian states like China and North Korea, would decide what we plebs see and discuss.
For the government to consider expanding its invasion of our privacy, and to treat its citizens in a manner fitting of criminals demonstrates to us that the Government and our PM Gillard are simply not worthy of the respect that their position of power would normally entail.
Even more worrying than the growing intrusion on our freedoms and privacy, is the dis-empowering of Australians, and the conversion of our government from a democracy which is owned and governed by the people, to an autocracy which disregards the very foundations upon which our country was built. On page 47, the document states “the Director General of Security to issue authorised intelligence operation certificates which would provide protection from criminal and civil liability for specified conduct for a specified period (such as 12 months) ”.
This statement, buried in the document, gives and unprecedented and unwarranted level of power to intelligence agencies. By giving certificates which provide protection from criminal and civil liability, the state is giving these agencies a blank cheque to do what they like, with no recourse. Should you lose your job, have property or data loss, or have some other damage inflicted upon you, there will be little to nothing you can do, if the intelligence agency has been given. The intention of this is to give ASIO agents protection from prosecution ,if they happen to unwittingly receive training through a terrorist organisation during their investigations. But the wording is too broad, and despite having a specific purpose, once in place, there is nothing to stop the state from giving protection to intelligence agencies for other purposes.
What we have is a government which cares nothing for our rights. Time and time again, police and other authorities have their power extended in order to enable them to protect the state from criminals and to protect it from citizens who may wish to change the state. Any law which restricts the power of authority means that a barrier is placed to the authority functioning the way it would like to way. Because our state, and Australians in general seem to have accepted that Police and intelligence organisations should not have to deal with limitations in dealing with their investigations and efforts to uphold the law, they have effectively granted these authorities complete power over us. What is happening now is a creep of the state over our rights and privacy as citizens of this nation, and because we have accepted that the state has the right to remove limitations, ALL limitations are subject for removal.
We must draw a line between the states activities and our private activities as citizens, and protect this line from incursions, and not buy into the states rhetoric about having to erode our rights for our own good.
In the meantime, there are a number of ways for people to protect their online privacy.
The first, and most important, is to oppose the encroaches on our liberty. First and foremost, is getting rid of the Labour/Liberal duopoly. We do not imagine for a second that the Liberal party would not do anything different.
Secondly, we can take measures to protect our privacy on line.
There are a few methods
  • TOR: ( Onion Router is software and a network of servers which directs internet traffic in a way to make it extremely difficult to tell who is communicating to whom. This does not encrypt traffic, but it grants anonymity. Using TOR, no one can tell, by examining your internet traffic exactly what website you are accessing, and likewise, one examining the traffic of a particular website, cannot track data back to the user if the user is using TOR. Note that there is no encryption, so one can still see what you are communicating, just not with whom.Plugins for Firefox are available here and there is also Vidalia, a graphical controller for TOR.
  • VPN/Proxies: Virtual Private Networks and Proxy servers provide a level of anonymity. Instead of your internet communications going to a website directly, they are either handled by a proxy, or tunnelled through another network. Using a VPN or a Proxy, it appears that you are just communicating with one server. Again, this protects people from snooping on whom you are communicating with, but the communication itself is still readable.More information here
  • Encryption: Using encryption scrambles data so that no one but the intended recipient or sender can decrypt it and read it. Encryption may be used with a VPN by the means of Secure Socket Layers or SSH. Using encryption means that snoops will only see what appear to be a completely random and unintelligible stream of data.
  • PGP: Pretty Good Privacy is a software system to encrypt data for personal communications. Primarily used for e-mails, PGP allows one to encrypt e-mails, or any other file in a manner in which only the intended recipients can decrypt and read it. PGP provides very strong military grade encryption for the public, and is easy to use. The advantage of PGP is its ease of use and the ability to choose which people one wants to communicate with. PGP also provides digital signatures. Information on PGP is here The implementation of PGP that we recommend is the Gnu Privacy Guard (GPG) . GPG is a free and open source implementation of the Open PGP protocol and can be used for any commercial or private purpose without limitation and is available for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows.For more information on GPG visit A windows version (GPG 4 Win) is available at
    For Mac users, visit and
    Users of the excellent e-mail client Thunderbird can use the add-on Enigmail to integrate GPG functionality in Thunderbird. Visit
    Outlook users can use if GPG 4 Win is insufficient and DejaVuSecurity’s open project for software to build the GPG “web of trust”.
    An alternative way to use PGP, is to subscribe to the Hushmail webmail service. It is webmail with PGP built into it.