My letter to Tanya Plibersek

At the beginning of this week there were a number of news reports about comments that Tanya Plibersek made in regards to Australia's intelligence agencies and their desire for access to metadata about the communications of regular Australians. Tanya Plibersek is the member for Sydney of The House of Representatives (which is part of Australia's Federal government). I am a registered voter in the Sydney electorate, and so I thought it would be worth voicing my concern about her comments directly to her in the form of a letter.

The below is a copy-paste from my letter. For a copy of the actual letter, see this Google Drive document.

Dear Mrs. Plibersek, RE: RECENT COMMENTS REGARDING INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES I am a member and registered voter within your Sydney electorate. I have worked in the Information Technology field for 10 years, and have had an interest in computers, technology, and the internet since I was a child. I refer to an article published on 31st of March 2014 on The Guardian Australia's website entitled "Tanya Plibersek: we would give spies more tools to fight domestic terror". I find yours and the Labour party's now clear position on this issue to be ill-considered, irresponsible, and dangerous to Australia's democracy. I have outlined some of the main reasons I believe this below.
  1. No "Haystack" of metadata protects against terrorism The leaks by whistle-blower Edward Snowden have made clear how much metadata the US National Security Agency stores, and yet even with this unprecedented access to metadata they still failed to foil the plot that lead to the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.
  2. It enables turnkey totalitarianism The history of intelligence agencies around the world show that they often go off the rails and start making their own decisions about what's good and what's not, and hide from the people who are supposed to be overseeing them their true actions and intentions. All it takes is for one bad person to gain control of this metadata repository for its misuse to be catastrophic.
  3. A "Haystack" is exactly that The fact that intelligence agencies want the "haystack" of metadata shows just how much information about an individual's thoughts, intent, and their network can be derived from it. To dismiss it as "only the envelope" is a misrepresentation. Sometimes metadata can be more revealing than content. For example, the content "I'd like to make a booking at 12pm" is not revealing at all, however if you knew someone was calling an abortion clinic you would have a lot more revealing (and private) information.
  4. Self-censorship & a "chilling-effect" on the media For example, someone who wants to get a massage but doesn't want "that type of massage" may ask themselves the question "do I really want this on my permanent record?" and refrain from Googling "massage parlours". Also, the fact that journalists and sources cannot communicate in private may have a potentially chilling effect on journalist's freedom of expression.
  5. Opposition to the issue Labour's support of the demands of the intelligence agencies effectively grants them and the Liberal government (who also support metadata collection) a blank cheque to implement whatever changes they wish, without anyone of sufficient power holding them to account.
The above points describe some reasons that the solution proposed by our intelligence agencies is not a good idea, and should be convincing enough, however there are many more described, and a framework for communications surveillance policy in accordance with human rights listed, in the 'International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance'. I suggest you read it, and I wholeheartedly agree with everything within that document. As my local member, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I call on you to:
  1. Push for solutions which comply with, and vote on relevant issues in accordance to, the text of the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance referred to above.
  2. Make representations within the Labour party, the media, in public, in private, and to other non-Labour politicians, to ensure that citizens of Australia are informed on this issue.
Lastly, referring to comments attributed to you within the article described above, could you please answer the below question
  1. You mentioned that collection of metadata had "aided the disruption of terror plots in Australia". How many terror plots did this metadata collection aid in, and in each case, to what degree did it aid? Would the plot have still been foiled without metadata collection?
Please note that on this issue I am clearly very motivated, and will be campaigning friends, family, co-workers, and the local public in the lead up to the next election to convince them to vote for individuals who support human rights when it comes to communications surveillance. Yours sincerely, Dylan Lindgren