Tuesday, 08 December 2015 11:27

EFA seeks mandatory warrants for access to stored data

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Electronic Frontiers Australia has called for warrants to be made mandatory in every case where the release of metadata, stored under the recently introduced laws, is sought.

The non-profit national organisation, that has been promoting digital freedom, access and privacy in Australia since 1994, said in a media release that it welcomed the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights which had made it plain that protections for journalists in mandatory data retention laws were inadequate and may "limit the right to an effective remedy, fair hearing, privacy and freedom of expression".

EFA chairman David Cake was quoted in the media release as saying: "It’s simply not possible to carve one section of the community out of a mandatory, society-wide data retention scheme.

"While protecting journalist's sources in order to facilitate effective whistle-blowing is critical to ensuring accountability in the public sector, there are many other privileged communications that also deserve protection, including lawyer-clients, doctor-patients and many others.

"The only way to achieve effective protection is for a warrant requirement to be implemented for all access to retained telecommunications data."

Cake pointed out that, contrary to claims by Attorney-General George Brandis and others that a universal warrant requirement for access to metadata would be unworkable, at least 11 European countries required judicial authorisation in every case in which access was sought to retained data. Another three European countries needed such authorisation in most cases.

He urged parliament to review the data retention laws and implement a universal warrant requirement for access to retained telecommunications data, adding that without this requirement, "the mandatory data retention scheme represents a clear and serious threat not only to the privacy of all Australians but to the ability of the media to hold governments to account. As such, it undermines the effective functioning of Australia’s democracy".

The EFA also noted that Brandis had not kept to his commitment to introduce laws before the year-end making it mandatory for data breaches to be notified.

The organisation said similar legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in 2013 and it failed to pass the Senate when parliament was prorogued for the 2013 election. The bill was re-introduced in 2014 as a private member’s bill but Brandis had been very slow to act on what the EFA termed "this important issue".

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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