Why nothing you do online is private anymore

19th April 2017 5:21 PM
Under the Australian Federal Government's Metadata Retention Scheme, which passed the Senate in March 2015, telcos and ISPs are required to collect and retain customers' metadata for at least two years. Under the Australian Federal Government's Metadata Retention Scheme, which passed the Senate in March 2015, telcos and ISPs are required to collect and retain customers' metadata for at least two years. Inga Williams

FOR all the years it dominated headlines across Australia, the Federal Government's data retention laws came into effect with little fanfare.

For some, the laws are Orwellian.

But what do they mean for the average Bundaberg resident browsing the NewsMail's website or making a phone call?

Under the Australian Federal Government's Metadata Retention Scheme, which passed the Senate in March 2015, telcos and ISPs are required to collect and retain customers' metadata for at least two years.

While this bill was passed in 2015, telecommunication service providers were given until April 13 to develop their systems and become compliant.

What is metadata?

Metadata is essentially any information that is generated when we call, text or use the Internet.

So for phone calls the metadata would be the date, time, location and duration of the call but not the content of the call.

The Coalition insists metadata is a crucial weapon in the fight against counter-terrorism and organised crime.

But privacy advocate groups argue the changes inflict on our online privacy.

CQUniversity School of Engineering and Technology senior lecturer Dr Ritesh Chugh said the average Bundaberg resident had nothing to worry about.

"Personally, I think it's something we have to get used to," he said.

"I see more advantages of the data being available to government agencies, whether they use it or not is a different story.

"I don't think they (residents) should worry about it and everyone should just go on with their life."

Digital Rights Watch chairman Tim Singleton Norton disagreed.

"It's important that we mark this date - and pause to remember that a detailed picture of the private lives of Australian citizens is being collected by telecommunication companies on behalf of the government," he said.

The change has seen an increase in interest in virtual private networks but Dr Chugh said there were risks involved.

A VPN encrypts data when it travels through the internet and the service usually costs about $10 a month.

"VPNs provide security, anonymity and protection against surveillance but I think it is an unnecessary trade-off in hiding our digital footprint," Dr Chugh said.

The retention scheme will be reviewed in 2019.