Metadata is a buzzword that triggers suspicion amongst Australians. What is metadata and why has it been a controversial subject for the past few years? Apparently, the increased risk of local terrorist attacks spurred the government into creating laws that give them access to data transacted by users over the telecommunication network.
The notion of having government agencies snooping over each of your calls is disconcerting, even if you’re a law-abiding citizen. For Australians, they are resigned to being under constant monitoring since a data retention law was passed in 2015 and took effect in 2017.
What is Metadata?
Metadata loosely refers to information that passes through the telecommunication provider when you make calls or browse the Internet. Call records, IP addresses, and text messages are some examples of metadata that could be logged under the data retention law.
While there isn’t a specific description of the metadata, it is believed that telcos are also collecting emails, browsing histories, and even geographical locations that are transmitted over the network.
The intention of the law is to allow enforcement agencies to investigate criminal activities and terrorism, with the hope of identifying suspects through the metadata gathered.
What Does the New Data Retention Law Mean for Australians?
The new data retention law has been controversial, despite its good intention. Under the act, telcos are required to store up to 2 years’ worth of data for every user. The immense data is believed to be helpful to enforcement agencies in combating domestic terrorism.
While the goal sounds noble, Australians are concerned about the risk of data breaches, which will compromise the privacy of fellow citizens. With hackers employing more advanced techniques, it’s impossible to rule out such possibilities.
There are also doubts that putting the entire Australia population under surveillance is effective in rooting out terrorism. Rather, it seems like a loose effort of casting a massive net, without any specific direction.
Journalists, who could be working with sensitive sources, were particularly concerned with the introduction of the law. Following strong objections, an amendment was made to the bill so that a special warrant is needed before the respective agencies can gain access to journalists’ metadata.
Telecommunications providers are also burdened by the cost of data retention, which is partially subsidized by the government. In other words, Australian taxpayers are paying for a massive surveillance system that monitors their every call and text.
Is Your Metadata Safe?
It’s understandable that ordinary Australians are worried by the fact that personal call logs are available to various agencies. Based on the legislation, 22 law enforcement agencies including the Australian Federal Police and ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) have access to the metadata.
However, it has been discovered that as many as 80 agencies that are beyond the scope of law enforcement have been accessing the metadata too. To make matters worse, ACT (Australian Capital Territory) police have admitted to accessing over 3,000 metadata records unlawfully.
Confidence in the integrity of the metadata framework was also shaken by an apparent breach by the AFP police in 2017. The metadata record of a journalist was somehow obtained by an officer without a warrant.
It’s apparent that the enforcement of the act and privacy protection of Australians has failed. Even if further amendments are made to the law, it is natural to assume that the metadata’s safety is marginal at best.
How to Avoid Online Surveillance
No one likes to have their browsing history copied, retained, and made available to government agencies. Judging by how cases of non-compliance of the act continue to happen, it’s only natural that you’re looking for avenues to avoid the constant surveillance and remove the records they have on you.
While it’s quite impossible to prevent telcos from logging your calls and text messages, you can hide internet activity with a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN is a network service that masks the IP address of your device and encrypts the content before transmitting the data over the Internet. With a VPN, you could then use messaging and call apps like Skype or Whatsapp, to cloak your presence online.
By installing a VPN, your telco will have no clue on what you’re browsing, the duration you’ve spent and the actual IP address of your device. It’s fairly easy to stay anonymous with a VPN. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
1. Download a trusted VPN and install it. NordVPN is one of the most secure VPNs.
2. Launch the VPN and connect to a server that’s not in Australia.
3. Now, you’re securely connected to a VPN and all of your internet metadata cannot be stored by the telco.
Choosing a VPN to Prevent Metadata Tracking
You’ll want to be particularly cautious when choosing a VPN to prevent your online activities from being monitored. While it’s good to have a VPN that is fast and cheap, you’ll want to ensure that it is using the latest encryption and protocol.
An often overlooked aspect, which is crucial, is the jurisdiction of the VPN registered headquarters. If the VPN is located in the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes alliance, which Australia is part of, the VPN is subjected to the data retention law of the respective countries.
If you’re in doubt, choose from these VPNs, which are proven to be fast, secure and safe.
|Safe Jurisdiction||✅||✅||✅||No (USA)|
|Voice call-friendly connection speed||✅||✅||✅||✅|
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|$3.67 – $10.36||$1.99 – $11.95||$3.49 – $11.95||$3.25 – $5.00|
Australia’s data retention law is definitely controversial. It helps to combat crime but the instances of unlawful access are worrying. If you don’t feel like having government agencies snooping over you, install a VPN right now.