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01 March 2015
By Matt Hrkac

Is Labor really going to cave on data retention?

One has to hope that Labor is listening to the backlash that it has been receiving over the last few days regarding its apparent cave-in over the Coalition's Data Retention legislation. Labor would be wise to know that it isn't just The Greens (i.e; ya know, their (non-)opponents) opposing this draconian legislation, this opposition to data retention is coming from within their own ranks as well.

With just under a year to go until the next Federal Election, cracks are beginning to appear in Bill Shorten's leadership. People were all too willing to accept Bill Shorten as an alternative for the first year and a half of Tony Abbott's term as Prime Minister, as it has been so atrociously terrible that people would vote anyone in other than the Coalition - but we are at the stage in the electoral cycle where people will be expecting the opposition to come forward with an alternative vision for Australia to differentiate themselves from the government, even if the government is appallingly bad. Senator Scott Ludlam is right in saying that the Opposition actually need to be an opposition, and explicitly oppose government policy and put forward alternatives, or, in the case of data retention, put forward the facts.

For one, there is absolutely no proof, what so ever, that data retention helps to deter terrorism or crime. France is a fine example of this; it has had a data retention regime in place for several years now, yet that wasn't able to foil the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters. The United Kingdom has also had data retention for several years, yet that hasn't helped their security agencies stop known terrorists from going off to fight with the so-called Islamic 'state'. The argument that data retention "keeps us safe" is a ridiculous one.

Secondly, a mandatory data retention regime would be completely and utterly pointless as anyone with even basic technical knowledge can circumvent such surveillance anyway. Basically, every white collar criminal (which data retention supposedly targets) falls into this category, and would make the retention of data completely and utterly pointless - a pointless regime that would cost up to $400 million a year to implement, which anyone paying for an internet services will pay for through increased fees - all for a pointless regime that is utterly ineffective and redundant.

Thirdly, data retention is clearly being used as a ploy by Tony Abbott to scaremonger his way into the 2016 Federal Election. The Abbott Government, and previous Coalition governments, particularly the Howard Government, have been all too willing to whip up fear and create division and hate in the community to further their own goals and win re-election when they come up with 'solutions' to 'keep us safe' from the so-called problems that they manufacture.

Some would also use the argument that the websites that we visit track and keep our metadata and that the security agencies also, to some extent, track and keep data of the phone calls that we make, and the websites that we visit. Addressing the first part of this argument, while that may be true, the difference between a website tracking data, and the government implementing a mandatory data retention regime, is that websites tracks our information with our consent. A mandatory data retention regime isn't consensual, it is forced upon us. For the second part of the argument, yes, national security agencies already do track our metadata, but internet service providers don't - which government mandated government retention would force them to do, and hold, for lengthy periods of time.

If Labor really is serious about civil rights, then they will oppose the introduction of any data retention regime. Labor simply rubber stamping this legislation through the parliament will only serve to make them look weak, and will disillusion even the most hardened-on of Labor supporters. If Labor allows the data retention regime to pass, then they are merely the 'Opposition' in name-only.

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and photographer based in Geelong. He has particular interests in politics, elections, social movements and the trade union movement.

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