While I do not have access to statistics on how Canberrans feel about the recently passed mandatory data retention laws, I can honestly say that I have spoken to no one who agrees with them.
The Australian Capital Territory’s Human Rights Act was the first charter of human rights enacted in Australia. After coming into force on 1 July 2004, it has served as an inferior, but not redundant, substitute for a federal charter of human rights.
Under privacy and reputation in section 12 of the ACT’s HUMAN RIGHTS Act 2004, it is stated that:
Everyone has the right—
(a) not to have his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence interfered with unlawfully or arbitrarily; and
(b) not to have his or her reputation unlawfully attacked.
The data retention laws mean that telecommunications companies are compelled to retain information of people’s online personal activities, including:
- When you contacted a suicide prevention line
- Who you communicate with
- Where you are at all times…. and the list goes on.
The information can be accessed by government authorities without a warrant. This is an unprecedented attack on one’s liberty, privacy, family, home and correspondence.
Needless to say, the most basic of principles for protecting the liberty of its citizens by which the ACT Legislative Assembly operates are violated by the new data retention laws.
Additionally, it was a personal sadness for me that on the very day Katy Gallagher (a person for whom I have considerable respect) assumed office as Senator for the Australian Capital Territory, the two major parties held hands in the senate and merrily, and knowingly, legislated against the will of the Australian people by passing these draconian and Orwellian laws.
Indeed, it was attorney general Robert McClelland’s department who forced telecommunications companies into secret meetings to establish how a two-year data retention scheme might work in 2010… the very same year that McClelland dashed the hopes of Australia instituting a charter of human rights. A coincidence? Whether it is or not, I can say with confidence that these laws make a lot of Australians feel angry and disempowered, not to mention those who live in the most enlightened Australian jurisdiction of all, the ACT.
Australia is the only English-speaking western country that does not have a national bill or charter of rights. There are valid arguments against having a bill or charter of rights, but there are more valid arguments for having one. Protecting a citizenry against a new era of surveillance where people’s privacy is invaded, where we are disempowered by the state, where we are assumed guilty before proven innocent and where our data sits like a golden goose waiting to be stolen and sold on the black market are but a few good reasons for progressing the argument in favour of an Australian charter of rights.
It will not be a matter of if our personal information is stolen from telecommunications companies on a mass scale, it will only be a matter of when – I promise.
The greatest injustice in all of this is an injustice of democracy, and that is even though politicians knew that Australians did not want these laws passed, they passed them anyway. Gutless.