ASIO chief pledges not to act as 'Big Brother'

Courtesy of IT News

The head of Australia’s domestic spy agency has promised that a mandatory data retention regime would not result in ‘Big Brother’-style surveillance during questioning by a parliamentary inquiry.

Irvine expressed surprise that Australian citizens were more concerned about access to data by the likes of ASIO for law enforcement purposes, rather than the commercial use of personal data by telcos.

Colour me totally unimpressed. It is Irvine’s job to push for ever greater access and retention. And one should remember that is in addition to whatever they can recover through non-covert channels.

Surely, equally, it is our job as citizens to resist bureaucrats simply making their department’s jobs easier without regard to appropriate oversight?

(Hyperbolic wording chosen deliberately to make the point(s). As ever, dial back to suit.)

Why do they keep expressing surprise about peoples comparative concern with corporate use of private data?

That’s stupid. Corporations just want us to buy stuff. We understand their motivation and mostly tacitly go along with it because many of our jobs are also tangled up in such motivations. It’s still not good, but governments however, are a different matter entirely. Their motivations include a long history abuse of power and they have a great deal of power over us just waiting to be abused.

Irvine can’t be so stupid as to not understand this, so I can only assume he is deliberately starting the discussion with a lie. Notably, he’s not the only government official touting this lie.


The argument regarding corporate use of data is a clear conflation of the two issues. I am worried about corporate use, but that is irrelevant to the fact that I am also worried about government use.

I think people would be far more receptive to intelligence services having powers that aren’t so strictly limited and defined if it weren’t for the facts that firstly they’ve been caught abusing their positions numerous times, and secondly that they only get caught when people within the system leak information, because they refuse to operate transparently.

I’m happy for them to have to jump through annoying, bureaucratic hoops, when those hoops are in the form of seeking targeted warrants from legitimate courts, issued for probably cause, and publishing transparency reports once in a while.

The whole whinge just makes me dismiss his arguments as TBSS.


Privacy isn’t about never giving data away, it’s about being able to decide for yourself who gets to see what. We choose to give data to some firms by being a willing customer and user of their services. The same is obviously not true in the case of intelligence agencies. Pollies and bureaucrats who justify data retention by comparisons to facebook either don’t get or don’t value the concept of consent. Which is a worry given the kind of power they seek.

The other mislead is in the attempt to compare old-fashioned phone record-checking with getting metadata from mobiles and emails. Metadata reveals everything, including your location, friends, finances, health… our posters said it best: You are the metadata.

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This iiNet blog piece lays the issue out pretty well.

When oh when will the penny drop and ISPs realise the “S” in their title stands for “Service?” They charge their customers for service…fair enough. How about they charge the parasites for data-matching fees as well (preferably at usurious rates?) Up front, of course—no results guaranteed.