16 October 2012

Trust and Data Retention

In parliamentary submissions and articles I have argued that questions of trust underly much of the debate about calls for mandatory retention of telecommunications traffic data and, more broadly, telecommunications content.

Recurrent flip flops by national Attorney-General Nicola Roxon for example do not induce trust. Hyperbole by representatives of the Australian Federal Police similarly don't induce trust.

It was thus interesting to see the item in today's Canberra Times that features another iteration of claims by the AFP that both can and should trust law enforcement bodies regarding mandatory retention. That retention is supposedly a matter of necessity rather than mere bureaucratic convenience.

The Times states that -
Senior federal police say their ability to investigate major crime will be "devastated" if a controversial proposal to track the internet use of Australians does not go ahead. 
And the Australian Federal Police have asked for the public "to trust us" to use the online data responsibly, saying police surveillance would be subject to considerable internal and external oversight. 
.... the police say their ability to investigate and track criminals will be hampered without some form of online data retention. .... 
The head of the AFP's high tech crime operations, Neil Gaughan, said the force had a good record with not abusing its powers, and was subject to ''significant'' internal and external oversight. 
"I know it's a big ask, but we're asking people to trust us", Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said. 
"We won't hold the information, it will be held by the ISPs or the telcos, and we require an authorisation by a superintendent of police or above to obtain that information", he said. 
"To be blunt, we are too busy policing the community and policing national and international law to go on fishing expeditions. We just don't have the resources." 
Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said police were losing the capability to track and investigate crime as communications moved online and away from fixed lines.
There is a case to be made for data retention. Regrettably the AFP has neither made that case nor recognised that there might be legitimate concerns - highlighted for example in the cogent submission by Dr Anthony Bendall noted here or Malcolm Turnbull's lecture noted here - regarding a major extension of powers and potential for misuse.

Should we provide Asst Commissioner Gaughan with a blank cheque on the basis of reported (and fallacious) justifications that
Opposition to such laws in Germany - the government has declared them invasions of privacy and forbidden them - has left the German federal police agency the Bundeskriminalamt or BKA a laughing stock … No one can work with them internationally," he said. "If I go to Germany with an inquiry about who called who, when and why, they can't tell us. It's causing the BKA all sorts of problems.