City News

Leichhardt says no to increased surveillance


Leichhardt Council has unanimously decided to prevent themselves from accessing the metadata of their residents.

The council voted on an item that would, “rule out the use of metadata for compliance or any other council purpose,” on April 12.

This vote comes after council received a report regarding the use of metadata in local government after having commissioned the report in December last year.

Greens Councillor, Rochelle Porteous, said that protecting their residents from any council overbearance was a “no brainer.”

“The issue of metadata is something that should not be used improperly. The whole collection of metadata is something that I and the Greens do not support. In terms of the legislation that has passed by the federal government so we are certainly not going to support it at a local level,” Clr Porteous said.

“I think it is important to say that [metadata] will not be used by council because it is important for us to make it very clear to our residents and our business that we will not be using metadata.”

At the meeting, independent councillor, John Stamolis also attempted to put forward a motion to reframe the item to prohibit use of metadata only when it would infringe on, “protection of privacy and civil liberties.”

But the motion failed to gain a seconder.

Clr Stamolis told City Hub that the purpose of his motion was to tighten up the wording of the original item because council already uses metadata in the statistical sense.

“I was just refining the wording,” Clr Stamolis said.

“I’m not talking about private details of residents, I’m talking about broad data. Metadata that you might bring down from the websites like the Reserve Bank, you might be bringing it down from the Properties Council.”

“You’re bringing down data that helps you understand information and helps you understand the data itself, which we call metadata in the statistical sense.”

“I was saying that we didn’t want to stop council from doing its normal work with data and metadata, which is very broad.”

The council vote on the issue followed a report commissioned in December last year by Mayor Darcy Byrne, who voiced concern about councils being able to access metadata.

He warned in December that the increased use of this information by council could lead to “spying on residents.”

“Australian Councils are increasingly accessing metadata in order to determine information about who their residents are speaking to and to pinpoint their location at certain times,” Clr Byrne said.

“Whilst these requests so far seem to have been restricted largely to assisting prosecutions – primarily environmental breaches – the increase in use does point to a concerning prospect for the abuse of this power, tantamount to spying on residents.”

“The civil liberty of our residents must be protected, as must their basic human right to privacy,” he said.