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Remember, there is no privacy in Team Australia

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Thu at 9:06amThu 7 Aug 2014, 9:06am

We might feel happier about the privacy shakedown if the Government could make even a bit of sense. Instead we get obfuscation and urges to toe the line as dutiful members of Team Australia, writes Jonathan Green.


As they say: "There's no jihad in team".

Team Australia that is. Or is that Operation Team Australia? Whichever, we're all in this together now, armed only with sprigs of wattle and the nation's internet browsing history against "unhealthy immigrant values" and the chilling possibility of mass-casualty homeland terror.

On the first point we have columnist Andrew Bolt's word for it, that "Australia is being asked to assimilate to immigrant values, and not necessarily the healthiest ones".

"But wait ..."

Yes Andrew?

"Don't we need a frank debate - more frank than it's been so far - into how the Islamic culture, the Muslim culture, people from certain Muslim countries in the Middle East, how they integrate here? That is a very difficult and dangerous discussion."

Well, you know, on the evidence, probably not; let's not treat the deplorable exception as the common condition, or, worse, the product of the fevered and fearful imagination as the reality.

And yet there are exceptions.

And here our Prime Minister is clear, and we must take his word on this, that the threat posed by returning jihadis is real, hotheads who have taken up the cause of jihad and the caliphate in foreign parts. As the Australian newspaper reported:


The Prime Minister also warned of a big rise in the number of suspects who could attempt a "mass casualty" attack on home soil given there are now five times as many Australians fighting with terror groups in Syria and Iraq as there were in Afghanistan in the past.


Of about 30 Australians who fought with terrorists in Afghanistan, 25 returned home and two thirds of that group were later involved in domestic terrorism, the government said.


"If we see anything like the same ratios in respect of people coming back from Syria and Iraq, the potential for terrorism in this country has substantially increased," Mr Abbott warned.


Some key numbers there, like "30" and "25". Smallish numbers you might say. By some accounts as many as 150 Australians may now be serving other interests than our national interest in war zones overseas. Which is not a big proportion of the broader Australian population, nor even a big share of our Muslim head count of 480,000 or so. But perhaps 150 misguided jihadis pose a sufficient risk to merit turning a nation's notion of privacy on its head, enough of a threat to expose every Australian's life on the phone and online, to reverse the onus of legal proof and all the rest of it.

Perhaps. Acts of random and bloody terror are not, after all, labor intensive. It takes no more than one malevolent sociopath to bear all this out, to make good the Government's worst fear, to deliver on its promise.

It's all a bit woolly, but then this is national security, an area of public life in which we extend our Government a considerable benefit of the doubt. We take it on trust that their anxieties, more often alluded to than made plain (because you know, national security), are the real deal. We presume that when they say they are in receipt of credible evidence that they are in fact in receipt of credible evidence, despite the occasional episodes that provide credible evidence to the contrary.

And there have been times, not so far past, when claims have flown ahead of substance but still been believed, with appalling and deadly consequence.

As prime minister John Howard once put it:


Iraq has a usable chemical and biological weapons capability which has included recent production of chemical and biological agents; Iraq continues to work on developing nuclear weapons. All key aspects - research and development, production and weaponisation - of Iraq's offensive biological weapons program are active and most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War in 1991.


Several tens of thousands died proving that hypothesis wrong, a toll with which makes the current threat of data retention and a beefed up surveillance state look meek by comparison.

The Government's call is the same one though: to be concerned if not slightly alarmed at the menace within, and to take them at their word; this time with the catchy embellishment that we ought toe the line and surrender our metadata as dutiful members of Team Australia.

We might feel happier about the privacy shakedown if the ministers in charge - who presumably have thought this through, or at least compared notes between radio interviews - could make something even approaching sense.

Instead we are left with the likes of this from the Attorney-General as he attempted just yesterday to calm our nerves on Government access to our internet use: "We're not tracking the websites you visit, only the web addresses," he told Sky News. Students of addled obfuscation as a refined form of political discourse would be well advised to watch the entire interview linked above. It is a masterwork.

The full policy detail, Senator Brandis explained, is a work in progress. Social media: Well that's under discussion. Phone calls? No more information than is collected now for the purposes of billing. By some suppliers. I think.

We shall see.

We should also forgive the PM a certain haziness on these issues bordering as they do on the technical; this was never his strong suit.

As Mr Abbott told Kerry O'Brien back in 2010 when discussing his misgivings over the mooted NBN, "I'm no Bill Gates here and I don't claim to be any kind of tech head in all of this."

And so it was that through yesterday he assured us that:

"It is not what you're doing on the internet, it's the sites you're visiting."


"It's not the content, it's just where you have been, so to speak."

Which is to say:

"We are not seeking content, we are seeking metadata."

Or to put that another way:

"Metadata is the material on the front of the envelope, and the contents of the letter will remain private."

And with that metaphor the PM may have delivered inspiration to thousands who, confronted by the rather grim promise of unprecedented state intrusion into their phone calls, their physical location, their email and browsing history, may soon opt to buy typewriters. Or pens. And stamps for the ensuing envelopes, thus denying any civil servant without access to a kettle everything but the obvious metadata.

But remember, Team Australia: there is no privacy in team.

Jonathan Green hosts Sunday Extra on Radio National and is the former editor of The Drum. View his full profile here.


If I was a major crime figure, paedophile, or terrorist, or even aspiring to be, (which, fortunately for me, I'm not, or I wouldn't be writing this) I'd be extremely wary of using the internet, or mobile phones, even landlines, except for perfectly innocuous, everyday type communications..

I suppose I could use it more safely and anonymously at the airport, (not an internet cafe) on a notebook, tablet, or laptop, but I'd probably put it on an encrypted data stick as a file, to send the bulk of it, and receive most replies that way.

I'm not too sure about Virtual Private Networks, and how safe (or not) they are, nor of the benefits of using proxies, but I'm informed that the computers we buy here have inbuilt security deficiencies in their software that an expert could drive a truck through.

Would skyping at an airport be more secure than mobile phones?

And they say ignorance is bliss; I don't think so. Am I being too paranoid? Maybe not, in light of recent events.

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software that comes with the computer..... you mean the operating system (eg windows)? windows always has been full of holes, it's the most popular OS by far so it's the most widely targeted by far. you can always change the OS although on some devices that isn't as easy as it sounds.

AFAIK tor is the standard means of anonymity these days, but why bother with anonymity when you can be indecipherable? if you don't want your boss, wife, government, competitor or nemesis to intercept your communications you can use PGP to encrypt it so that only the intended recipient/s can read it, the problem with that is both parties need to learn how it works and it takes people forever to add such a simple thing into their reportoire.

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