March 19th the Australian Federal Government’s Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015 (Data Retention) passed the lower house of parliament.
There was discussion about the effect the call monitoring could have on journalist’s activities, but surprisingly there was no discussion about the real issue, being the:
Pervasive and continuous location monitoring of every Australian.
The text of the bill contains this paragraph defining items to be collected.
Item 6 The location of equipment, or a line, used in connection with a communication The following in relation to the equipment or line used to send or receive the communication: (a) the location of the equipment or line at the start of the communication; (b) the location of the equipment or line at the end of the communication. Examples: Cell towers, Wi-Fi hotspots.
This location monitoring combined with the ability to generate social graphing information will ensure that the Australian Security organisations have the ability, and legal framework to create a complete “Facebook” with knowledge of everyone with whom you’ve had contact with (co-incident cell tower information), how often these contacts take place, and exactly where you live (to within 50m or so).
Although every mobile network operator currently has access to this data, it is never retained for commercial reasons (because of the volume of information collected), unless a warrant specific to the Service (SIO) has been obtained.
It is noted that this location information is only intended to be collected at the start and end of a communication. This occurs when sending a tweet, accessing your email (whether provided by an overseas provider or not), or even regular background push or polling of data by applications running constantly in every smart phone. In effect, the applications running on every smartphone obviate the need to ask for continuous location, because they are constantly starting and stopping communications sessions and allowing location information to be legally gathered.
This location information will be collected whether or not the user is using overseas providers for their email (Google, Apple, etc), has a VPN to an overseas provider, or is using TOR or other obfuscation scheme. If you have a cellphone this affects you.
This continuous complete location information can easily be combined with commercial retail location graphing software (although the security agencies have capability to do a much better job with high grade software), to create a social graph across every person in Australia. People who travel together will be automatically deemed to be connected. Repeat co-incident locations or travel vectors will increase the likelihood of being “friended” with someone. Shared location overnight creates accommodation groupings (family and friends). The number of degrees of separation calculable by the systems is only limited by the compute power of the underlying platforms, and is essentially unlimited.
The Eye of Sauron
Ok, so having a social graph providing continuous location information of every person in Australia, and their connection to people around them is one thing. But where could this all be headed? Government endorsed Tinder? Or Foursquare? I don’t think so.
Also on March 19th I was involved in two separate conversations that brought everything home. This bill is about creating the legal framework for pervasive and continuous social graphing and location tracking for everyone in Australia (with a mobile phone).
In the first conversation with a state government agency, where it was advised that “we currently track all pedophiles – to protect the children from re-offence“, and we will be required to extend this capability to “track all sex offenders – to protect us from re-offence“. You know, women can’t walk in the park alone at night, so tracking would be useful protection.
It is not hard to see the extension of this requirement to “track all criminal offenders – for our protection”, with a slight change in political leaning to propose to “track all prior offenders – for our protection”. Or potentially to “track any potential offenders – for our protection”, and I think we’ve now swept up everyone.
In the second conversation a noted expert in the “Internet of Everything” suggested that we should “track all our children all the time – for their protection”. Fine as a motivation, but why stop at 18 years old? When our children are accustomed to being tracked and watched in their movements, and having the benign and helpful eye of our security agencies overlooking them, surely they’ll come to realise how beneficial and convenient it is to have continual location tracking for every day of their entire lives.
It is irrelevant whether or not these changes in public policy for tracking of suspicious individuals (current or potential future criminals) or tracking of the younger generation actually come into effect. The legislation as it stands ALREADY permits and endorses the outcome of complete pervasive tracking and social mapping of the entire population by any or all of the 20 agencies noted in the draft legislation, once it is voted into effect.
And thus, the Eye of Sauron was born.