Melbourne born software Developer Mike Pearce has thwarted government plans to impose mandatory data retention for all Australian citizens by fundamentally changing the way the internet works.
Australian PM, Tony Abbott is currently being accused of bullying the opposition and scaring the Australian people into submission with his new data retention plan.
The plan is being fiercely fought by Australia’s newest political superhero-to-the-people, Senator Scott Ludlam.
Walking into the small, city highrise apartment Mr Pearce calls home it’s hard not to feel like this backyard operation has little credibility.
Mr Pearce leads us a few steps from the door to his ‘office’; a medium sized desk with not much more than an Apple mac and monitor and begins a furious verbal tirade against what he (and many other Australians) considers an attack on every law-abiding citizen.
Tony Abbot has faced fierce criticism from both privacy advocates and industry experts over his plan to treat every citizen as a suspect in his bid to retain his failing Prime Ministership and push through a potentially damaging data retention bill.
The plan outlines a mandatory data retention period of 2 years for all metadata for all citizens, forcing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to play along.
“And exactly what is metadata?” I interject, as Mr Pearce shows no signs of pausing his heartfelt speech.
“Well that’s part of the problem!” He offers without hesitation and goes on to explain that the government refuses to spell out exactly what type of information they will be collecting.
“Metadata” is usually data that describes where the data originated from (who made the call, sent the text message or email), where it is going (the recipient), the time it occurred, the duration of the exchange, the size of the data being transmitted and potentially, many other datum particular to the information type. Metadata can also encompass location data such as where you travel in a given day, thanks to your trusty mobile phone’s GPS.
Abbott and his government insist that metadata is not the “content” of the exchange, merely the details surrounding it, but privacy advocates argue that there is a wealth of information that can be gleaned form these short, descriptive packets.
One argument commonly regurgitated by media is a situation where a call originates from ‘Melbourne HIV Clinic’ to ‘Johnnie X’. Metadata can confirm the origin and destination. Immediately after the call ends, Johnnie X sends an email to his mother who in turn sends emails to a number of relatives. Johnnie then makes 4 calls to women in the area. The calls are short. Each of those 4 women then make a number of calls in a similar fashion.
It is clear to see that we can tell a lot of information just by the metadata in this (albeit fictitious) story. All of these points can be ascertained through metadata.
“What we need to do is protect our infrastructure against threats like this from our nosey government. There is no evidence whatsoever that plans like this actually improve conviction rates or even really assist in finding offenders”, Mr Pearce explains.
“This is our second attempt at finding a way to circumvent the proposed laws and we’ve finally hit the nail on the head!”
Pearce’s first attempt was a system codenamed ‘Topical Parkour’ – a play on ‘Parkour’; a sport where people jump from building to building – and attributed to Mr Pearce’s fiance Erin and a close friend identified only as ‘Shifty’. The pair came up with the word one night while sitting around a barbecue with friends, while the conversation jumped frantically from topic to topic due to the state of their inebriation.
“Topical Parkour is a hardware and software based system that scrambles metadata or ‘topics’ during transmission making it virtually impossible for someone to get a clear ‘story’ from your metadata”.
Mike enthusiastically adds: “Its a bit like… Oh, you thought I called the Midget Porn Chat Hotline? I was actually talking tea blends wid yo granny! Pow! It just makes a mess of the metadata.”
“We quickly realized it wasn’t feasible. You know, making people buy more hardware”.
Mike turns to his latest creation.
“We’re tentatively calling it Internet 2.0. Everything 2.0 comes with a bit of ‘wank-factor’ and we’re hoping the pun won’t get lost on our fap-happy followers that want to keep their shit private.”
The system does away with conventional data transmissions where metadata is sent along with the “actual” data.
“We took it back to square one. If it’s metadata they’re tracking, let’s get rid of metadata! Internet 2.0 is content only baby! Yeah!”
Mr Pearce is currently in talks with some of Australia’s largest ISP’s and hopes to totally reengineer the interwebs over the coming days.
Professional nay-sayers argue that without metadata, there is no way content can move around the internet or even be found, making the entire internet a big digital graveyard. Mr Pearce declined comment on the issue, but the semi-constipated, somewhat pained expression on his face said it all.
When asked about the threat of ‘Internet 2.0’ to his proposal, Mr Abbot replied “Arrrr….Arrrrr. Well look…..Arrrr… We simply want to be the suppository of all data arrrrr…. of the Australian people. Fair dinkum. Arrrrrr.”.
Mr Pearce warns that even in the internet’s current state, the proposed data retention plan falls short. “It’s easy enough to circumvent with a VPN or even just using an overseas webmail program. But that’s not the point. The government is going to spend $400 Million of taxpayers money on a system that doesn’t work properly.
“With that amount of money spent, you can be damned sure they are going to try to make it work. They’ll start outlawing ‘circumventing technologies’ and encryption. That’s why this is so dangerous. It’s the tipping point for totalitarianism. Everything after this is easy.”
As those words echo around in my head and make me a little uneasy, I wonder what might happen if all this information falls into the wrong hands – assuming of course there are people more deceitful and harmful than our current government.
It’s clear that once this plan is in effect, there will no longer be any privacy. Who I am, where I go, who I speak to, what time I’m regularly out of the house, what forums I post on – will always be on hand and monitored by our government. Not to mention freely available to any would-be-hacker.
While perhaps not totally convinced with Mr Pearce’s technology, I am convinced this proposal spells out bad news for all current and future generations of Australians.
Guilty until proven innocent is simply not ‘The Australian Way’.
For more information, petitions and ways to help stop this invasion of privacy, see www.Scott-Ludlam.Greensmps.org.au/campaigns/stopdataretention.