Data retention: national security vs. civil privacy

Data Base (Photo: Pexels)
Citizens may be worried about their privacy under a data retention scheme (Photo: Pexels)

The dispute has not stopped since the government introduced a new data retention scheme. As a citizen, Krystal Li said that ” if the government can ensure our data is private, data retention is fine. I don’t care about it.” But Cassie Zhao, a student who learn digital communication at The University of Sydney, says: “It looks really horrible ’cause we may lose our privacy under its supervisory control. I think I may not talk to people freely because I always feel like somebody is looking at me.”

So, what is data retention? Does it have an effect on our lives?

New Data Retention Scheme in Australia requires Australian telecommunications companies to keep user’s data for two years. At the same time, in order to help eligible telecommunications service providers implement this data retention scheme, the government has also established the Data Retention Industry Grants Programme which is part of the Australian Government’s $128.4 million commitment.

Which kinds of data are contained, Metadata or Data?

The most controversial aspect of the scheme should be how to define the data to be retained. Sherry Bu, who study digital communication at the University of Sydney think that: “In digital society, communications data is information about electronic communication, which exists in all aspects of our life, like the footprint after searching the Internet, sending an email, or making a call.”

Some scholars believe that metadata is maintained by telecommunications companies. Another part of people argues that since it is data retention scheme, then data is retained.

In fact, metadata and data are quite different. According to Jay Zaidi, who specialises in MDM tool implementation, Governance, and Quality, data is a collection of facts, such as numbers, words, measurements, observations or even just descriptions of things. Metadata is defined as the data providing information about one or more aspects of the data; it is used to summarise basic information about data which can make tracking and work with specific data easier. For a phone call, data is the content and metadata is the number of it.

The authorities also define the information to be saved. A total of six related data are listed on the list of required stocks:

  • The subscriber of, and accounts, services, telecommunications devices and other relevant services relating to, the relevant service
  • The source of a communication
  • The destination of a communication
  • The date, time and duration of a communication, or of its connection to a relevant service
  • The type of a communication and relevant service used in connection with a communication
  • The location of equipment or a line used in connection with a communication

The government also stressed that the content or substance of a communication does not require to retain. In addition, Internet service providers and social media like Facebook in Australia are not asked to keep the data such as web browsing history about their users.

Why data retention is important?

The page of ISIS on Twitter (Screenshot: Twitter)

With the development of Internet technology, people are increasingly dependent on the network and computer technology. Every day, massive data dissemination through the internet.

This has caused some hidden dangers to the national and individual security. In particular, terrorist organisations can use the Internet to spread fear more easily. For example, social media network technology plays an important role in the rise of ISIS.

They use the Internet’s openness, convenience, and concealment to spread “beheadings” on the Internet, promote religious extremism, recruit soldiers and elicit fundraising support.

In addition, the network crime rate is also increasing year by year. In 2017, the global Cyber Security market is expected to skyrocket to $120.1 billion.

As a citizen, Krystal also said that ” we should take our responsibility and it is a part of our responsibility.”

Therefore, the management and monitoring of internet data are necessary. But how to grasp the degree of supervision is also the core issue that needs to be considered

Is data retention in Australia safe for personal privacy?

Some opponents argue that the scheme may compromise personal privacy. Citizen is unable to understand where The data retained by telecommunications companies is being used. Will this data use in civil cases? No one can know.

Sherry also argued that: ” Data retention refers to the storage of details of information from electronic communication; on the one hand, it is beneficial for government jobs; on the other hand, it also provides an “opportunity” for some criminals.”

For journalists, the scheme has far more influence on them than the general public. The freedom of speech in journalism may be affected by the government’s monitoring of communications data. Paul Farrell, a Guardian reporter, is planning a campaign against the data retention because the content of his email has been known by [Federal Police] without his agreement.

Is anyone else doing this?

In fact, Australia is not the first country to implement data retention. Many European countries and Asian countries have made their own efforts in network data management. For example, The Chinese government is set to adopt the Cybersecurity Law. China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, held a third and final reading on the law on October 31, 2016. And In 2006 the EU issued its Data Retention Directive. According to the Directive, EU Member States had to store electronic telecommunications data for at least six months and at most 24 months for investigating, detecting and prosecuting serious crime.

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