THE federal government wants your personal internet data, and they don't want to have to apply to a court to get it.
Revelations that the federal government wants Australia's 400-odd internet service providers (ISPs) to log and retain customers' web browsing data, so law enforcement can access it during criminal cases, have sparked alarm in the industry.And not just in the industry, let me tell you. Personally I'm not much of a libertarian. I am all for regulation in many instances, not so much because I have an overall gloomy view of human nature as because I think there are always one or two stinking, suppurating apples in any given barrel, and they're usually (to mix the metaphor) the ones who get the Darwinian upper hand when it comes to things like money and power. Witness the oil-drenched ocean life (and death) on the Gulf Coast, the crooked-cowboy home insulators and school-hall builders, the ludicrous spectacle yesterday of Gina Rinehart shrieking at her rent-a-crowd rally.
A few years ago my sister was hospitalised with a reasonably common but potentially grave condition: surgical adhesions from a childhood appendectomy were causing, in middle age, the sorts of appalling intestinal blockages that produce extreme pain and other symptoms you really don't want me to describe. In general, surgeons are loth to operate to relieve this kind of thing because of the risk that it will produce more adhesions, and her surgeon was playing a waiting game to see if the problem would fix itself. In the meantime she couldn't eat at all and was in increasing amounts of pain. My other sister and I went in there every day with Vegemite and Bickford's Lime Cordial to make her hot drinks to sip and get a bit of Vitamins B and C into her if nothing else.
It was all bit horrible and it got steadily more horrible. One day I went in to see her and she was in too much pain to talk to me, so I went in search of, and found, someone in a uniform behind a desk: a squat, dim-looking woman in fussy pussycat glasses, whom I asked for information about my sister's condition. By now I was what I have learned from Robertson Davies to call 'loaded for bear', so I may have been a tad more forceful than was tactful. The woman looked at me, I swear, with an expression of satisfaction. 'We can't tell you anything,' she said. 'Due to privacy.'
Further enraged by the inane formulation 'due to privacy', by which I assumed she meant that the privacy laws meant she couldn't divulge any information about my sister's condition, I succumbed to the red mist a bit. 'Here's my driver's licence. She's my sister. Have a look at my face, then come down the corridor with me [the woman was, I swear, literally doing her nails] and have a look at her face. Mind you, her face is so distorted with pain that you might be forgiven for not seeing a resemblance at the moment.'
The woman looked at me as if I were from outer space. 'Can't you ask her how she is?'
'No,' I said. 'I can see how she is. How she is is she is in too much pain to speak. I would like to speak to her doctor, could you give me his number please?'
I swear she smirked. 'We can't give you his number,' she said. 'Due to privacy.'
Got that? I can't get any information about the condition of a family member in hospital, but the government wants unchecked access to my browsing history. There you have the privacy laws. Due To Privacy, the individual is hog-tied but the government can do whatever it likes.
(What are they going to do, pounce on my links to Facebook's FarmVille game because they think it must be about bestiality? Given the degree of ignorance this government has displayed so far about the Internet and all its works, nothing would surprise me.)
The timing if nothing else of this new 'Ve haff vays of spying on your search history' development (nothing would surprise me there either) seems beyond demented, given that they are already tanking in the polls. Do they understand that that's largely because they've opened up a yawning chasm in the trust and support of their own heartland, what with the net filter proposals and the sidelining of the CPRS, and this will make it a million times worse? Who are this government's advisors, and what in the name of the Goddess are they thinking about?