It was a bright cold day in June, and the clocks were striking thirteen as I browsed Google Sci/Tech News and came across ZDNet’s ‘Govt wants ISPs to record browsing history’ article.
The Australian Attorney-General’s Department recently confirmed ongoing discussions about implementing a data retention regime in Australia requiring ISPs to hold customers web browsing history and private emails and make both available on request from government agencies. Industry insiders said the regime being considered by the Australian Government could see data held for up to ten years, much longer than EU Directive time of 24 months.
While reading this, looming in the back of mind is the labour party’s proposed mandatory internet filtering policy. The proposed policy was originally aimed at keeping children safe online but in reality it involves blacklisting and blocking a plethora of online material deemed inappropriate by the government. Opponents of the policy don’t dispute the worth of providing tools to help parents protect their children, but take issue with the expense, side-effects and technical issues of this scheme. Find out more from Electronic Frontiers Australia’s filtering fact sheet.
Although using a slightly different approach, the ultimate goals behind the two regimes is making the internet a safer place, circumventing crimes and facilitating investigation of suspected criminals. But is snooping on individuals’ private browsing and controlling access to material really the way to go? Regardless of the questionable effectiveness and obvious drawbacks, such as costs, there are some major concerns regarding privacy and freedom. Do we really want the government to decide what we can view online and have the ability to access our own personal browsing history? I am aware the intentions are good but it does send chills down my spine.
In relation to the data retention scheme, Electronic Frontier Australia (EFA) chair Colin Jacobs said, “At some point data retention laws can be reasonable, but highly-personal information such as browsing history is a step too far”. Jacobs added, “You can’t treat everybody like a criminal. That would be like tapping people’s phones before they are suspected of doing any crime.”
Jacobs does raise valid concerns. Where do you draw the line? Is accepting government access to everyone’s browsing history a precursor to tapping people’s phones? Setting up surveillance cameras in everyone’s home? Thought police?
Extract from Orwell’s 1984:
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
Alright, I know we’re far from the dystopia described in Orwell’s 1984 but I can’t help drawing parallels between the personal privacy lost to the state. Orwell once explained that the scene of the book (1984) is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else, and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.
WebSpy is pro-internet access and provide businesses, government departments and educational organizations an alternative to blocking and filtering software. We emphasizes that organizational internet usage should be managed using an honest and open monitoring approach where acceptable internet usage policies are clearly communicated to employees and students.
Employers need to ensure their internet resources are used in a productive, secure and legal manor. Private filtering and monitoring by a government is a completely different kettle of fish and we have deliberately refrained from public comments on Australia’s proposed filtering policy. However, with the new discussions on government access to private web browsing and email records we felt the need to at least raise a few concerns and if nothing else point out the difference between private and organizational internet reporting.
Whilst we do see benefits in families and individuals monitoring their own internet usage and bandwidth cost, as a company we do NOT support government legislation allowing national filtering or access to private browsing records.
What are your thoughts?