Recent figures from the federal Attorney General’s office show a huge spike in federal and state access to private telecommunications information. Essentially all your telephone and internet related information is available for access by senior police officers and related government officials – without a court warrant. Wire taps (recording private communication and internet traffic) still require court authority.
This availability of private data to a broad number of public servants, and the substantial uptrend in accessing it is a worrying trend.
Some will argue that “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you don’t have anything to worry about”. However, this is a shallow analysis. Where ever more power is available to collect and analyse personal data, there is more scope for corruption; in the Information Age, data is a salable asset.
There are also concerns in my mind about what people could be wrongly accused of, if the people accessing the information are not sufficiently knowledgeable, and the scope is not specific. For example, there are millions of computers in the world infected with malware. Many of you reading this blog will unknowingly have malware on your computer and not know it. Malware includes viruses, worms, spyware, trojans, key-loggers and a range of other nasties.
This malware could be doing almost anything in the background, from sending out mass quantities of spam, to sending your keystrokes to someone trying to get access to your bank account login, to communicating with nefarious websites. If the latter was occurring, and your computer was communicating with a remote server that is known to be linked to criminal activity, then it would appear to a shallow surveillance that you were linked to those criminal activities. This could be start of detailed surveillance of your every move, and possible arrest, based upon an incorrect assumption and something you had no control over.
There is also massive commercial value in the types of surveillance that is occurring unchecked – of particular concern to the millions of directors and shareholders of Australian businesses. Using gathered telecommunications intelligence, it would sometimes become apparent that (entirely legal) commercial deals are planned or in progress. On some occasions it will become apparent to those investigating, that they have a personal interest in the outcome of these commercial situations, thus greatly increasing the chance of largely undetectable corrupt activities.
For example, if you are a government official trawling through collected telecommunications data, it may become apparent through web addresses and phone numbers that an organisation is looking to hire or fire a particular role within the organisation. If that affects someone that they know (within that organisation or a competing organisation), then a quiet tip-off by that official could have significant commercial outcomes.
If you think that sounds like a rare situation, reconsider when you read that access of private telecommunications data is happening on average 5800 times PER WEEK – over 300,000 times per year. Now it’s not entirely clear how much data is gathered in each “access”, but with that quantity, it becomes inevitable that a percentage of those will reveal information that is commercial sensitive, and just having that information known by others has a commercial outcome.
What are your thoughts? Are you comfortable with more surveillance? What controls should be in place?