LHA101 is basically the “preparation for uni” mandatory course. It’s all about exploring issues in modern society and learning how to critically analyse these, and the subject acts as a springboard for our lives at uni.
Recently we had to write an essay on a topic of interest for us, and mine was on the moral implications of digital privacy. Enjoy!
An Invasion of Digital Privacy
The Moral Implications and Fears regarding Metadata Retention
New technologies have been one of the forefronts in creating a more globalised world, where information is at the tips of our fingers and our breakthroughs move us forward in leaps and bounds. However, what some people view as a “step forward”, others view as morally questionable. This is not a new concept; science and religion, in particular, has always been at the centre of moral questioning. Now in the 21st century, one of the “hot-button topics” in regards to morals is digital privacy – where is the line between public knowledge and intrusion drawn? What impact does consent have on moral implications, and when, if ever, is it acceptable to disregard consent?
I will be writing about the new laws regarding mandatory data retention in Australia and the public opinion of this, whether it is seen as a breach of moral rights or a necessary sacrifice. By comparing it to the leak of nude celebrity photos in 2014 and the Ashley Madison hacking of 2015, issues of consent and the morals surrounding a right to privacy will be discussed and the impact of this on our approach to digital privacy.
The Metadata Retention Act
On October 13, 2015, Australia made it mandatory for electronically logged data, such as call history, emails and location information, to be stored by all Australian telecommunication companies through the introduction of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015. At least 21 branches of law enforcement, government and intelligence agencies have unlimited and immediate access to once private information, and will no longer require permission to access these files as there are no clauses in the Act to combat this. In fact, anyone who exposes instances of metadata access will be at risk of a two-year gaol sentence. It was part of the Abbott government’s plan to combat the rising threat of Islamic State and was in the interest of national security, yet the move was seen as controversial both in and out of the cabinet. Even Malcolm Turnbull (our current Prime Minister) complained about the move for metadata retention, saying “I must record my very grave misgivings about the proposal; it seems to be heading in precisely the wrong direction”.
Support and Opposition
Interestingly, a 2015 poll undertaken by the Lowy Institute shows that 63% of Australians were accepting of the metadata laws, calling them “justified as part of the effort to combat terrorism and protect national security”, as opposed to 33% who stated it “goes too far in violating citizens’ privacy and is therefore not justified”. It seems as though both the public and the government are deeply concerned about the threat terrorism poses to Australia; enough so that they are willing to accept “…some intrusions on their privacy in the interests of fighting terrorism and protecting national security” (Dr Michael Fullilove, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute). This seems to suggest that the public of Australia consider that in times of need, the moral implications of this breach of digital privacy can be put aside.
The metadata storage act does, however, raise an issue with consent. Since there is no regulation of what information is being viewed, nor whom is being viewed, the government can theoretically access any private information from any individual. If there is no consent given for this, and no way of legally monitoring this metadata access, it seems that the government has been given a great deal of responsibility by the public to use this power only for anti-terrorism purposes and not for general investigation. In fact, a former police employee spoke to ABC News on the issue of metadata and shared his concerns that the regime could easily be abused and more insight was needed. And what of the security concerns? With so much information available to them, it is also raising issues of the secure nature of our information. If the government can easily access our browser history and call logs, who is to say that others cannot illegally access the same information for themselves? With our consent so selectively given, any breach of this trust will appear as a stain on the government and its abilities to protect us.
When Private Becomes Public
This fear of security and privacy breaches are in no way unprecedented. In some instances, things go wrong and our private information becomes very, very public, leading to shame and ridicule. Two of the most famous instances of this were the leaking of celebrity nude photographs in August 2014, nicknamed “The Fappening” by Reddit users, and the Ashely Madison hacking in July 2015, where around 37 million account details were shared across Google and exposed everyone from housewives to celebrities.
Both were an intrusion into the digital privacy of those involved, without consent – no different from the government’s mandatory metadata collection. The difference between the two hacking events lies in the moral repercussions. Reactions to “The Fappening” were a mix of disgust towards the hackers and those who searched for the pictures, and anger at Apple, its iCloud storage system and its level of security. In contrast, when the Ashely Madison information went public, many members of the public viewed the victims with judgement and a “they got what they deserved” attitude. The events truly aren’t that different from each other; both are an example of private information becoming public. The difference is that the Ashley Madison hackers believe they maintain the moral high ground.
It is as simple as this: all of us have a right to privacy. Without consent, any information of ours that is being monitored or displayed publicly is a breach of our privacy. Whether it is a group of hackers doing “the right thing” and exposing cheaters, or a government with the intention of protecting us from terrorism, or Ryan Collins sitting behind a computer screen phishing for celebrity nudes, all are the same act with different morals. Although the government may see metadata retention as a necessary anti-terrorism measure, it is without our consent and undeniably a breach of privacy. Who has the right to say what is and isn’t on public display? Ultimately, the decision should be our own.
Dempster, Q. (2015). Data retention and the end of Australians’ digital privacy. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/data-retention-and-the-end-of-australians-digital-privacy-20150827-gj96kq.html
Falkvinge, R. (2014). The Fappening – Who Was At Fault? Everybody, Especially The NSA | Privacy Online News. [online] Privacy Online News. Available at: https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/blog/2014/09/the-fappening-who-was-at-fault-everybody-especially-the-nsa/
Fullilove, M. (2016). Lowy Institute Poll finds Australians’ fears rising, and terrorism the biggest security risk. [online] Lowy Institute for International Policy. Available at: http://www.lowyinstitute.org/news-and-media/press-releases/lowy-institute-poll-finds-australians-fears-rising-and-terrorism-biggest-security-risk
Massola, J. and Grubb, B. (2014). Data retention Hokey Pokey: Liberals caught in public embarrassment over privacy. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/data-retention-hokey-pokey-liberals-caught-in-public-embarrassment-over-privacy-20140808-101rs2.html
Mokey, N. (2016). A lot of people are forgetting one important thing about the Ashley Madison hack. [online] Business Insider. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/ashley-madison-hack-is-still-an-invasion-of-privacy-2015-8?IR=T
ABC Radio News via SoundCloud. (2015). Exclusive: Police Insider Criticises Mandatory Data Retention Scheme. [online] Available at: https://soundcloud.com/downloadthisshow/exclusive-police-insider-speaks-out-on-mandatory-data-retention
Williams, R. (2015). Ashley Madison hack: The depressing rise of the ‘moral’ hacker. [online] Telegraph.co.uk. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11814054/Ashley-Madison-hack-The-depressing-rise-of-the-moral-hacker.html