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Distortions do the nation a disservice

By Alan Austin - posted Thursday, 27 September 2012


The urgent task of getting Australia's online security balance right is being undermined by media manipulation.

A bizarre attack on the federal Government's current open inquiry was run in Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper this week. Unfortunately, like so much printed there on this topic, it was riddled with factual inaccuracies, distortions and cheap political point-scoring.

Attributed to Simon Breheny, of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), the piece opens thus:

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Imagine if Australia Post opened and read all your mail. There would be outrage.

It wouldn't be acceptable to treat our offline privacy with that kind of contempt. So why does the Federal Government think it's OK to trash our right to privacy online?

There are four problems with truth here already. Firstly, governments do have the power to intercept offline mail. Always have had.

Secondly, that any government would bother to "open and read all your mail" is fanciful. Australia Post delivers five billion letters annually. Is it conceivable the Government wants to read all our emails – which will soon outnumber snail mail a thousand to one? And all our tweets, sms messages, facebook posts and cat videos?

Thirdly, one main purpose of the current discussion paper 'Equipping Australia against emerging and evolving threats' is specifically to maximise protection for privacy online.

Our law enforcement and security capabilities must keep ahead of terrorists, agents of espionage and organised criminals," the Parliamentary paper declares. "So our law enforcement and intelligence agencies must be equipped with contemporary skills and technologies, and backed by necessary powers – coupled with the appropriate checks and balances and oversight mechanisms society rightly demands.

And fourthly, the Government has consistently and credibly maintained it has not reached any decision on data retention. Breheny offers no contradictory evidence.

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This is facile scare-mongering unworthy of a school essay.

Breheny claims "Attorney-General Nicola Roxon recently gave her support to an extraordinary proposal to document the online activity of all Australians."

This is simply false. And the fact that The Herald Sun has peddled this nonsense before doesn't make it less so.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nīmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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