ISP data and the perils of privacy

When they're under pressure from Australian government agencies, don't think your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will protect your privacy.

Government is a much more seasoned Big Brother than telecommunications providers, with influence that makes the great mass of weary customers pale into insignificance.

If you are outraged by the AT&T spying case coming out of the US then don't waste your breath ranting about it. The situation in Australia is just as dire. For those not familiar with the case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing AT&T on behalf of customers.

It was revealed that the company set up a special room at one of its Internet facilities in the US that was only open to employees cleared by the National Security Agency (NSA). The EFF alleges AT&T gave the government phone and Internet usage records without the government producing a warrant or other required authority.

But this is only one of several class actions against telcos currently under way overseas alleging illegal cooperation with government surveillance.

However, the AT&T case is almost incidental when you consider the situation locally. Under Australian law, a warrant isn't even necessary.

That's right, it's open slather Down Under.

To be fair, there are instances where warrants do apply. But current laws are inexplicably devoid of logic.

Here's a breakdown of the more glaring inconsistencies that have finally been addressed by Parliament in recent weeks.

Under the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill, a warrant is not necessary for law enforcement to obtain e-mail, SMS and voicemail messages.

But we do have the protection of a warrant for telephone records. This inconsistency has been operating since 2004, according to an Electronic Frontiers Australia (an EFF associate) submission to Parliament.

Thankfully, commonsense has prevailed and the Bill has been amended in recent weeks to ensure warrants apply to all forms of electronic communication - stored or otherwise. But in reality this is all irrelevant because there is a convenient loophole.

Known as Section 282 under the Telecommunications Act, this loophole allows government agencies to access customer information at will.

If a government agency deems access to the information as "necessary" for investigative purposes, the EFA says there is no need to bother with formalities.

It wouldn't be hard to apply a fairly broad interpretation of the Act here.

So, next time you read about a blatant breach of privacy in the US and the indignation begins to rise, stop and take a deep breath. Just take a look in your own backyard because maybe the outrage should be redirected a little closer to home.

Are privacy concerns perilous for you? E-mail

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More about ACTAT&TAT&TBrother International (Aust)EFAEFFElectronic Frontier FoundationElectronic Frontiers AustraliaNational Security AgencyNSA

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