[LINK] 90% of snooping document blacked out

Jan Whitaker jwhit at janwhitaker.com
Fri Jul 23 14:45:10 AEST 2010

[read it and weep -- avoid debate, indeed!]

No Minister: 90% of web snoop document censored to stop 'premature 
unnecessary debate'

Ben Grubb
July 23, 2010 - 1:32PM

The federal government has censored approximately 90 per cent of a 
secret document outlining its controversial 
to snoop on Australians' web surfing, obtained under freedom of 
information (FoI) laws, out of fear the document could cause 
"premature unnecessary debate".

The government has been consulting with the internet industry over 
the proposal, which would require ISPs to store certain internet 
activities of all Australians - regardless of whether they have been 
suspected of wrongdoing - for law-enforcement agencies to access.

All parties to the consultations have been sworn to secrecy.

Industry sources have 
that the controversial regime could go as far as 
the individual web browsing history of every Australian internet 
user, a claim 
by the spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

The exact details of the web browsing data the government wants ISPs 
to collect are contained in the document released to this website under FoI.

The document was handed out to the industry during a secret briefing 
it held with ISPs in March.

But from the censored document released, it is impossible to know how 
far the government is planning to take the policy.

The government is hiding the plans from the public and it appears to 
want to move quickly on industry consultation, asking for 
participants to respond within only one month after it had held the briefings.

the highly-censored document (PDF, 3.60MB)
government reasons for censoring it (PDF, 3.23MB)

The Attorney-General's Department legal officer, FoI and Privacy 
Section, Claudia Hernandez, wrote in her decision in releasing the 
highly censored document that the release of some sections of it "may 
lead to premature unnecessary debate and could potentially prejudice 
and impede government decision making".

Hernandez said that the material in question related to information 
the department was "currently weighing up and evaluating in relation 
to competing considerations that may have a bearing on a particular 
course of action or decision".

"More specifically, it is information concerning the development of 
government policy which has not been finalised, and there is a strong 
possibility that the policy will be amended prior to public 
consultation," she wrote.

Further, she said that although she had acknowledged the public's 
right to "participate in and influence the processes of government 
decision making and policy formulation ... the premature release of 
the proposal could, more than likely, create a confusing and 
misleading impression".

"In addition, as the matters are not settled and proposed 
recommendations may not necessarily be adopted, release of such 
documents would not make a valuable contribution to public debate."

Hernandez went further to say that she considered disclosure of the 
document uncensored "could be misleading to the public and cause 
confusion and premature and unnecessary debate".

"In my opinion, the public interest factors in favour of release are 
outweighed by those against," Hernandez said.

The "data retention regime" the government is proposing to implement 
is similar to that adopted by the European Union after terrorist 
attacks several years ago.

Greens Communications spokesman Scott Ludlam said the excuse not to 
release the proposal in full was "extraordinary". Since finding out 
about the scheme, he has 
a Senate inquiry into it and other issues.

"The idea that its release could cause 'premature' or 'unnecessary' 
debate is not going to go down well with the thousands of people who 
have been alarmed by the direction that government is taking," he 
said in a telephone interview.

"I would really like to know what the government is hiding in this 
proposal," he said, adding that he hoped that the Attorney-General's 
Department would be "more forthcoming" about the proposal in the 
senate inquiry into privacy he pushed for in June.

Online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia spokesman 
Colin Jacobs said what was released was "a joke".

"We have to assume the worse," he said. "And that is that the 
government has been badgering the telcos with very aggressive demands 
that should worry everybody."

Jacobs said that the onus was now on government to "explain what data 
they need, what problem it solves and, just as importantly, why it 
can't be done in an open process".

"The more sensitive the process and the data they want, the more 
transparent the government needs to be about why it wants that data," 
he said. "Nobody could argue that public consultation ... would 
somehow help criminals," he added.

"We have to turn the age-old question back on the government: if you 
don't have anything to hide, then you shouldn't be worried about 
people having insight into the consultation.

"This is a very sensitive and important issue. It raises huge 
questions about privacy, data security and the burden of increased 
costs to smaller internet service providers. What really needs to be 
debated is what particular information they want, because that's 
where the privacy issue rears its ugly head," he said.

According to one internet industry source, the release of the highly 
censored document was "illustrative of government's approach to 
things where they don't want people to know what they're thinking in 
advance of them getting it ready to package for public consumption".

"And that's worrying."

The Attorney-General's spokesman declined to comment, referring 
comment to the department. The department said it had "nothing to 
add" to the FOI letter it provided.

You can follow the author on Twitter 
<http://www.twitter.com/bengrubb>@bengrubb or email bgrubb at smh.com.au.

This story was found at: 

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
blog: http://janwhitaker.com/jansblog/
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com

Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or 
sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.
~Madeline L'Engle, writer

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