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Saturday, 12 June 2010 17:26

Australian government to monitor all Internet usage


Faced with mounting opposition by voters over the Internet censorship legislation, the Federal government has upped the ante, proposing to mandate that all ISPs record our browsing history and store it. This move presupposes that everyone's online actions need to retained 'just in case' it's needed in a criminal investigation.

What this latest move highlights is that government really has no clue when it comes to the Internet. When ZDNet broke the story on Friday afternoon, a huge wave of discontent rose - Godwin's Law got a huge workout! But the reality is that this new move by the government is just as misguided as the web filter and shows that the government really has no clue. Here's why it won't work.

Anyone connecting to a VPN can securely tunnel their browsing. If I establish a relationship with an overseas VPN provider (and there are many to choose from) then I connect to them and they create a secure tunnel that can't be read as everything is encrypted. So, I browse via VPN and to all intents and purposes, what I'm doing is invisible.

The government might talk about banning VPNs but surely, they're not that stupid. After all, most large businesses rely on VPNs for their remote access.

For criminals determined to use the web the other option is to use a remote access protocol to access a computer that is outside the Australian monitoring regime. It's not that hard to set up VNC to a computer in another country. All that the ISP might see, and this outside the scope of what's been reported as being subject to monitoring, is someone using a specific protocol to access a computer.
As things are today, in order for the Internet usage of an individual to be captured and used in criminal investigations the relevant policing authority needs to apply for a warrant through the courts. That basic protection of civil liberty to going to be one of the first casualties should this new policy make it to law.

A similar policy that was put in place by the European Union in 2004 to retain the Internet usage data of individuals. However, that policy (that can be read here [PDF download]) was created in direct response to the terrorist attacks on London in 2005. It also stipulates that the data collected by service providers be kept for a period of between six months and two years.

One of the other considerations here is that such a data collection regime won't be cheap. We're left wondering if spending the money on more police and improved education and training for police dealing with crimes that use the Internet mightn't be a better use of taxpayer funds. Or perhaps the government plans to have the cost of Internet use increased and use the ISPs as quasi tax collectors? Only time will tell how this will be funded out of our $40 Billion deficit.

So, once again we are seeing our government, desperate to be seen to be doing something, talking about protecting us. It's like some of their other policy initiatives, like the Home Insulation Scheme and School Building Scheme, aren't working as expected and they need to get some runs on the board before an election. But that would just be cynical wouldn't it?

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