City Hub

Opinion: Privacy Hypocrisy

From Prime Minister Julia Gillard to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, the government’s rhetoric surrounding the media inquiry has remained consistent: it is not an attack on News Limited, but a necessary measure to ensure the protection of our right to privacy. As noble as this claim may be, it reveals an hypocrisy extant within ALP communications policy.

During Kevin Rudd’s prime ministerial reign, the ALP proposed a data retention regime which would provide law enforcement agencies the right to, without a warrant, gain access to all of an individual’s personal online data through their Internet Service Provider.

Such access would occur without the user’s knowledge.

This is an invasion of privacy. Through our Web browsing we create an image of our actual self. From news articles viewed, to products purchased, to forums accessed, our online activity reveals much of our identity.

However, this activity usually occurs in the assumed privacy of our own home. For many, the proposed data retention regime will eliminate the Internet’s utility as a private space for reflection and investigation.

It is reasonable to assume that, for some, the Internet is either the sole or primary mode through which their identity can be explored.

To prevent or hinder an individual from obtaining their necessary identity is an act of harm, and so a moral wrong – an argument made by the Enlightenment philosopher, John Stuart Mill.
If a government wishes to be honest with its citizenry, then it should explain why it plans to legislate an imposition on liberty.

To this end, in 2010 Fairfax pursued a Freedom of Information request to obtain data retention regime handouts provided by the Attorney General’s Department to the telecommunications industry. Some 90% of this document was redacted.

The Attorney General’s Department argued that the document was not in the public interest, and would generate unnecessary debate.

So, the ALP’s position is that private intrusion into privacy is wrong and necessitates inquiry, while government intrusion is reasonable and does not require explanation. According to the Open Net Initiative, the Australian government is currently ranked alongside Russia with regard to government online surveillance of its citizenry.

To put this in perspective, PM Gillard’s respect for privacy is congruous to that of the real-life Bond villain, Vladimir Putin.

Currently, it is ALP policy to both protect and deny an individual’s right to privacy. The ALP should decide if it wants to play the Bond villian or the hero and protect democratic values from authoritarian rule. Hopefully PM Gillard is enamoured more by Mill than Putin and rectifies this hypocrisy.

Currently, with regard to communications policy, it is the reverse.

By Christopher Ellis Linning