David Leyonhjelm on the retention of metadata

From The Guardian

Last week, Attorney-General George Brandis described data retention as ‘absolutely crucial in identifying terrorist networks and protecting the public’. On that basis, he argued for passage of the Government’s data retention legislation.

This assertion is simply false. The government has all the power it needs.

French police and intelligence agencies had access to targeted real-time metadata to track suspected terrorists in the lead up to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In addition, the terrorists in question were already on EU, UK, and US no-fly lists and had been banned from purchasing firearms.

Similarly, in Australia, Man Haron Monis was already well and truly on ASIO’s radar, and Australia’s security agencies have extensive surveillance capacities. They can, for example, obtain Data Preservation Orders that ensure metadata is retained and suspect activities on the internet examined. They can obtain warrants to intercept phone calls.

And yet, data retention didn’t help the police – or the public – one bit.

To his credit, French PM Manuel Valls admitted ‘a clear failing in security and intelligence’. It’s become clear from the fall-out – as the Charlie Hebdo attacks are pored over by France’s security experts – that part of the problem is too much data. Finding a needle in a haystack is not made any easier by adding more hay to the stack.

For Mr Brandis’s benefit, I’m going to outline what his proposed mandatory data retention regime will achieve for everyone – not just individuals of interest.

Late last year, I undertook a controlled experiment: with assistance of Mark White of the Sydney Morning Herald, I had a technical firm record my metadata for a month to see what it revealed.

Before entering parliament I ran an agribusiness services company, Baron Strategic Services. Data monitoring equipment was installed in BSS’s office and connected to the router. Because it only collected data relating to office traffic, there was no smartphone-derived geographical information.

The results were revealing. Without knowing any more than the name, metadata showed the sector in which BSS operates in less than a day. It was possible to work out which bank it uses and a complete record of its purchases and those of the staff – everything from furniture to renovations to compulsory third party insurance.

Metadata also revealed how often and for how long staff used social media like Facebook, where they planned to go on holiday, what one wanted to buy for Christmas, and when a female employee knocked off early.

As an employer, I’ve never been interested in monitoring employees in this way. I’ve always taken a dim view of people who time their employees’ loo and cigarette breaks. That said, if the boss gets too invasive, an employee at least has a fighting chance of telling that person or company where to get off.

Trying to tell the government – which is far more powerful than any employer, union, or professional association – where to get off is a whole other kettle of fish.

Despite my desire to keep politics and business separate, metadata also revealed my membership of the Inner West Hunters’ Club and the subjects I and other members discussed in group emails, including gun law reform. I wasn’t the only person identifiable either – everyone who corresponded with me had their identities revealed.

It was possible to establish who was publicly in favour of gun law reform, and who was in favour of it privately but unwilling to say anything about the issue in public for, say, employment reasons. The possibilities for blackmail are obvious. That the data will probably be stored offshore – mainly in China where it is cheap – makes the risk of hacking a real concern.

Had the analysis included my smartphone, with its site data, it would have been easy to jump to conclusions based on my location.

What would a telephone call or Google search placed in front of a brothel, gay bar or abortion clinic reveal? Imagine the caller were not me – with my classical liberal views – but a conservative Christian politician. What mischief could be had at his or her expense?

Everyone has something to hide, and something to fear, if universal data retention becomes law. It is one thing to require monitoring of certain individuals, but the idea that the government needs to store my 84 year old mother’s metadata is ridiculous and should not be countenanced.

Data retention will do nothing to save us from terrorists. It places the entire population under surveillance, no matter who they are or how blameless their lives. And thanks to its sheer volume, it will make terrorism harder, not easier, to stop.

David Leyonhjelm is Liberal Democrats Senator for NSW. He is on Twitter @DavidLeyonhjelm

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34 Responses to David Leyonhjelm on the retention of metadata

  1. Alfonso

    Really? Privacy is all over Dave.
    Alas, it’s the LDP’s approved Concealed Carry Handgun for unconvicted Bogan Halfwits policy that should scare the bejesus out of non fanatical, average, working, briefly potential Liberts.
    Legal Concealed Handguns for Halfwits.
    Dave has no answer except obfuscation.

  2. Mike of Marion

    Dave, tell Brandis to fuck off

  3. Tel

    French police and intelligence agencies had access to targeted real-time metadata to track suspected terrorists in the lead up to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In addition, the terrorists in question were already on EU, UK, and US no-fly lists and had been banned from purchasing firearms.

    Dude, the terrorists left ID cards, and then went and very attention grabbingly robbed a petrol station for $20 worth of petrol.

    Metadata? pffft…

  4. Tel

    That the data will probably be stored offshore – mainly in China where it is cheap – makes the risk of hacking a real concern.

    In the USA they use prison labour for cheap data processing. Much cheaper than having PC plod rummage through that haystack. All necessary safeguards are in place at all times of course. 😉

  5. DrBeauGan

    I had some limited faith in George up to the 18C non-repeal. Now I trust neither his integrity nor his competence. Sod him.

  6. C.L.

    What would a telephone call or Google search placed in front of a brothel, gay bar or abortion clinic reveal? Imagine the caller were not me – with my classical liberal views – but a conservative Christian politician.

    Sigh. Conservative Christians as the enemy again.

    Why not this: “Imagine the caller were not me – with my classical liberal views – but an imported British atheist working as a staffer for a nasty prime minister.”

  7. Lem

    Brandis is a real piece of work. Instead of all the lies I heard him sprout at various meetings before the election we get this:

    Watch your mouth, and BTW we have you under surveillance.

    Shorten must be wetting himself to get to the next election.

  8. JohnA

    On this issue, I agree with the broad proposition that holding metadata pertaining to the entire online and mobile-connected populace is useless, distracting and a waste of money and effort.

    However, see this:

    “French police and intelligence agencies had access to targeted real-time metadata to track suspected terrorists “

    and ponder the use of limited focus metadata.

    So is the LDP policy to not collect ANY metadata, or to collect metadata ONLY on persons already known to security forces and / or police?

  9. Governments should Never be rewarded for piss-poor performance. To do so is to only encourage the authorities to propose ever more restrictive laws to do what they already can do.

    Demonstrate why, under the current laws, you cannot do what needs to be done, otherwise fuck off.

  10. Shorten must be wetting himself to get to the next election.

    Fixed.

    Nothing explains him better than him being a bed-wetter.

  11. Pronto

    David has carefully and meticulously made the argument FOR metadata.

    The Govt has neither the time nor the people to rummage through the knicker drawers of the people. They must however find those who wish us harm and those they associate with.

  12. oldsalt

    ponder the use of limited focus metadata.

    JohnA. Our metadata retention is just playing catch up with our Five Eyes partners – it’s not our initiative We have to, or it’s 4.5 eyes, and others will do it for us anyway. The funds allocated are mostly for training and new jobs, not operational. We send our guys to the US, bring US trainers here, then NZ at the bottom of the food chain pays us to train their guys. If you want to see the training processes and how it will work in practice, just follow the US and Canadian experience, there’s plenty of information publicly available. Metadata sharing through Globalreach Lux Ex Umbra

  13. Memoryvault

    Get over it David. Everything you say and do electronically has been monitored and recorded since at least 1986. Central hub of this illegal monitoring is here at 114 Kent Street Deakin, ACT.

    This horse bolted nearly 30 years ago, and attempting to close the stable doors now is a waste of time and effort. Go have a chat to old Iron Bar. I reckon his conscience should be getting to him about now. What a tale he could tell if he had a mind to.

  14. Motelier

    The proprosal to store and search metadata is a waste of time.

    Brandis goes out of his way to drop changes to 18c. Then starts advertising loudly about metadata storage.

    The good Senator Brandis seems to have forgotten that one of these will probably slip under the radar. Planning takes time so instantaneous messaging is not necessary. Instant messaging is only required in the minutes before an attack is required. SMS, fax and email will then work effectively. And far too late for the authorities to make any sense of it.

    It might be called snail mail, but considering the mountain of “metadata” about contracts, iloveyous, credit card statements, facebook posts, blog posts and cooking recipies that will be gathered and have to be stored and searched, I can predict a return to hand written letters or typed letters on a simple thing like a typewriter.

    This is just going to make the powers that be that we elect to protect us, hide behind the white cane excuse.

  15. Motelier

    What happened to my link?

  16. Motelier

    these

    Up thread.

    If this does not work I am going to bed.

  17. Fess

    If a government turns on its people and goes all East German then everyone is screwed anyway – forget metadata, every third citizen is dobbing on their neighbours. If they collect metadata don’t get all paranoid because no one looks at it. The resources required are enormous and far beyond those of our security services. But if some fool starts regularly transmitting key words about weapons, violence and terrorism, or there is a tip-off, then they could immediately retrieve two years worth of metadata and find the patterns and contacts. If you want law enforcement to catch these guys then trust them with the data to do it.

  18. Percy

    Alas, it’s the LDP’s approved Concealed Carry Handgun for unconvicted Bogan Halfwits policy that should scare the bejesus out of non fanatical, average, working, briefly potential Liberts.
    Legal Concealed Handguns for Halfwits.
    Dave has no answer except obfuscation.

    Not this shit again. Did Reg look at you sideways and leave you a quivering mess for the rest of the day?

    Why should it scare the bejesus out of anyone? Allowing law abiding citizens to arm themselves reduces crime. There’s no ifs or buts. And who’s obfuscating other than you with your ‘Handguns for Halfwits haw haw haw’? Nobody. The LDP is straight up about their firearms policy and the reasons for it.

  19. rickw

    Alas, it’s the LDP’s approved Concealed Carry Handgun for unconvicted Bogan Halfwits policy that should scare the bejesus out of non fanatical, average, working, briefly potential Liberts.
    Legal Concealed Handguns for Halfwits.

    Alfonso, you still haven’t come up with any example of where your Concealed Carry Handgun “Fantasy” has come true. So how about either putting up or shutting up on deriding your fellow citizens?

  20. rickw

    No Muslims = No Muslim Terrorism = No Big Government = No Metadata

    Government made this mess so they can clean it up with interfering with the rest of us.

  21. Ellen of Tasmania

    No Muslims = No Muslim Terrorism = No Big Government = No Metadata

    I think we had big, big government long before we had any Islamic terrorist threats, Rickw.

    Good article, Senator. I wish it could have some impact.

  22. Barry

    I am opposed to the current socialist Australian government or any other socialist Australian government storing this information.

    However, when you are trying to argue a case you need to be more specific with the facts so that people can relate to what you are saying.

    Take this paragraph, for example:

    The results were revealing. Without knowing any more than the name, metadata showed the sector in which BSS operates in less than a day. It was possible to work out which bank it uses and a complete record of its purchases and those of the staff – everything from furniture to renovations to compulsory third party insurance.

    Since the Left have won and this country is finished, I only take a passing interest in things these days, and, from the little I know of the socialist government’s metadata retention proposal, I understand that it will just store your IP address, the IP address of the site you are going to, and the time and date of the visit. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    So, to the facts. First, it is clear that by looking at the pattern of your web activity it would be easy to make an assumption about the nature of your business – so, no problems there. The same applies to the name of your bank. But now we get to the problem bit: a complete record of its purchases. You need to explain this so that people can understand how it affects them personally. I can see that the metadata would show traffic to Paypal and other online payment brokers, but it would not reveal anything about the amount spent. On the other hand, it would of course reveal some information about what you purchased, because the Paypal IP address would show up in the middle of a cluster of IP addresses of the site at which you bought something. But if the electronic transaction was done on the web site of the business you bought something from, the socialists would have to tie that site’s IP traffic in with your visit to that site. So, again, a lot of guessing would be involved.

    Do you see the point? You need to be much more specific about the threat so that people can see how their daily activities are capable of being traced.

    For the benefit of those who may not be aware of it, an IP address is simply a numerical internet address that is unique to each site. Finally, this is a genuine request to obtain further information. It is not a mental-masturbation-fest to see who has the biggest computing penis, so, if you have any compelling urges, please control them.

  23. Barry

    One point of clarification re the above, when I said ‘so if you have any compelling urges’, I was referring to readers generally and not the author of the article.

  24. .

    Alfonso, you still haven’t come up with any example of where your Concealed Carry Handgun “Fantasy” has come true. So how about either putting up or shutting up on deriding your fellow citizens?

    Can you believe with Alf’s semi literate/ESL diction, he believes he is superior to most Australians?

    He reminds me of Parkos, a distant Macquarie/Bird relative who is part Korean and used to troll the Australian Libertarian Society forum.

  25. .

    Sigh. Conservative Christians as the enemy again.

    Why not this: “Imagine the caller were not me – with my classical liberal views – but an imported British atheist working as a staffer for a nasty prime minister.”

    Someone sees you as the enemy.

    Remember who got blamed for the marathon bombing?

    CNN national-security analyst Peter Bergen was questioned by reporter Jake Tapper about the explosions, and he said some of the information will become clear when police reveal what kind of explosive was used. He said al-Qaida often uses hydrogen peroxide explosives – while another explosion might signal that a “right-wing extremist” was involved.

    Yep, it wuz you guys.

    Metadata should not be available so a left wing government can abuse conservative Christians.

  26. C.L.

    David’s default boilerplate about Christians being the ones laying in wait to roll public figures using metadata is the kind of Soonian horseshit that passed as standard here ten years ago.

    It isn’t Christians in the public square threatening liberty.

    It’s left-wing and ‘liberal’ atheists.

  27. .

    I think you need to re-read the article and have a bit more respect for Great Soon’s Ghost.

    What would a telephone call or Google search placed in front of a brothel, gay bar or abortion clinic reveal? Imagine the caller were not me – with my classical liberal views – but a conservative Christian politician. What mischief could be had at his or her expense?

    I think you made a genuine, honest mistake.

    In the example, David has the conservative Christian as the rollee and not the roller.

  28. rickw

    If data is collected, its leakage and / or misuse is inevitable.

    The solution to this is not to collect it in the first place.

    eg. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the advent of Firearm Registration in NSW led to a spate of targeted thefts. There is no reason to suggest that this is not actually occurring on an ongoing basis across the entire country.

  29. Diogenes

    Barry to answer your question, having just the ip address will not yield a history of your purchases, merely what you looked at -for example if I were looking at facebook, all that would be retained is ip address 173.22.120.6 and tehtime and date of access – from that you could not not determine if I was looking at a page called “all muslims must die” or ” all kaffir must die”. – So far so good for big complex sites, but not so good if you spent all your time on a blog site such as michaelsmith news – “conservative heretic – burn him” !

    Now comes the scary part , should I ever be part of an investigation, then the police read my meta data, see that I spent a lot of time on FB so then they issue a warrant on FB asking for FB’s logs for those periods-and see that I spent all my time on a pages xyz. That starts to build up a profile on me – as DL stated in his article.

    The metadata thus becomes an index for further warrants& subpoenas – oh he has visited the NAB site – lets get his financial records from the NAB, oh look he hot the Cayman Island Commercial bank as well , hmm lets go looking there as well, they know that it will nlikely they will need warrants for Westpac, CBA etc etc. He hits catallxy files.com every nuight at 6pm, so lets monitor that and see what he has posted.

    It will be misused – currently all manner of data is being subpoenaed and used in civil cases such as divorce , and child custody

  30. gabrianga

    Shorten and Lem must be wetting themselves to get to the next election??

    Obviously Lem was out of the country or even off the planet during the Roxon /Doofus years and missed all their “misspeaks” or lies as most recognised.

  31. Barry

    Diogenes
    #1582151, posted on January 27, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Nice summary, Diogenes. It’s the old story, isn’t it. Collect as much as you can so you have it if you find a reason to use it. The scary part is that, unlike searching for key words in phone conversations, this allows the socialists to target individuals. For example, if they don’t like what you have said in a blog all they have to do to trace everything you have done by searching all of their logs for your IP address. I suppose all the socialist parties – Labor, Liberals and Greens – will be joining together to pass this legislation.

  32. Paul

    “Dude, the terrorists left ID cards, and then went and very attention grabbingly robbed a petrol station for $20 worth of petrol.”

    Hebdo, Lindt siege, 911 “hi-jackers”, you name it, its all about the attention trail, and yet it just keeps on happening, followed by demands for ever more powers from the usual agencies, that didn’t seem to want them caught too quickly in the first place.

  33. Lem

    Shorten and Lem must be wetting themselves to get to the next election??

    Obviously Lem was out of the country or even off the planet during the Roxon /Doofus years and missed all their “misspeaks” or lies as most recognised.

    One liar does not excuse another. Further, ad hominems do not a cogent argument make.

  34. Stephen of Glashouse

    .nuther good reason to use a VPN.

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