Abbott is asking innocent law-abiding phone users to allow the mother of all police states to keep phone and net data
Nick Ross ABC Technology and Games Updated 20 Feb 2015 (First posted 19 Feb 2015)
Google shows you exactly where you were and when. Soon the government will know this too.
- Related Story: Why are people so worried about data retention and the National Security Inquiry? Nick Ross 28 Sep 2012
If politicians talking about metadata storage bore you to tears, perhaps you’d be interested in seeing how the tedious talk translates into reality? Thanks to Google, we can see exactly what’s in store for all Australians because it’s been doing this – often without people knowing – for years already.
For many people in Australia, clicking the following link will make them gasp.
For the increasingly few of us who haven’t used a Google account on a smartphone (or who currently haven’t signed in), what you’d be looking at is your Location History plotted on a map. Unless you’ve actively taken steps to stop it, Google has been automatically recording of your location every 45 seconds and time stamping each coordinate.
It’s amazingly easy to search where you were on which day: there’s a calendar in the top left, there are individual days below it, clicking on the times (to the second) below them instantly zooms you into your exact location on the map. Beneath the map is a timeline for the month which lets you quickly zoom into specific areas and clicking on the dots on the map shows you exactly what time you were there. Awesome, right?
Here it is up close. This is part of my (now very public) trip down to Bowral. My position has been recorded every 45 seconds. You can literally go back in time and see if I was speeding!
But while you can opt out of this Google tracking and delete your history, the government is wanting to store all of this information (and a whole lot more) for at least two years in the name of preventing crime, terrorism, child abuse etc. You don’t even need to have a smartphone, any mobile will do. What’s more, any law-enforcement official can access it without a warrant. The potential applications are mind boggling.
Simple apps could be developed that worked out who was speeding, when and where – whether it’s a motorway or a School Zone – and there’d be no escape. It would be like a national-level, Average Speed Camera. It could possibly even help to reduce traffic by removing persistent offenders from the roads.
But that’s not all. If you’ve heard businesses talk about Big Data in recent years, you’d be aware that analytics software is all the rage nowadays. With so much data gathered from the Australian populace, all kinds of correlations and interconnections could be made. The potential for catching criminals and spying on people is off the scale. [Update: Thanks to Twitter user @fijma for providing the link to this fascinating explainer of metadata analytics and how it could have been used to discover Paul Revere.]
Just think of the fun you could have with all that information and some low-level programming skills which, say, automatically went through records and found search terms for people’s embarrassing medical problems (which would also be stored as metadata) with nearby trips to doctors’ offices, clinics or hospitals.
You could find out where people of note spend their time, whether they’re celebrities, politicians, criminals, journalists, whistleblowers, ex-girlfriends or husbands. You could see what shock-jocks get up to when they’re not on the radio? Which celebrities are meeting up with other celebrities and at which times of day? Or night. You’d be able to set up alerts if someone went somewhere unusual or to a location they shouldn’t be near.
Turning your phone off only highlights gaps in the timeline and draws attention to areas in which you’ve been. Imagine, for instance, analytics being able to identify all phones that get turned off for an hour in the exact same location as brothels?
With no warrant needed, this is all easily available to bored police officers and officials. Presumably related professionals such as private investigators could make enquiries too.
It could even help clean up politics. If a high-powered politician wanted to see who another rival was speaking to or meeting with, it would be simple to find out. Police officers themselves would have to be on exemplary terms with all of their colleagues, overseers and underlings. The same goes for their spouses.
If this sounds hard to swallow, it’s worth noting that as we wrote this article a police whistleblower contacted the ABC’s Download This Show and said that the lack of oversight is already causing this to happen.
Nobody will be able to hide from anything: people they’ve met, places they’ve been or how long they were there and who they called. Going back years. Criminals couldn’t leave phones at home, turn them off or post them somewhere else: alibis would have to be established by sending phones on a believable, trackable journey.
Hopefully the information will be securely stored and not get hacked. One can only imagine what would happen with scurrilous dirt and location information getting into the hands of cyber criminals, extortionists, bored hackers looking for laughs, suspicious employers, journalists, paedophiles, terrorists and the like. But grand-scale hacks only happen a few dozen times per year.
Going off grid might sound like an option but is it really possible to do that in this day and age? The average Australian already has five connected devices and smartphone penetration is already at 75 per cent. While not everyone has a connected watch, it will be normal soon: the explosion of the Internet of Things will soon see all sorts of appliances and things like your car connected online.
Many people would freak out at the thought of having all movements recorded. Those who aren’t familiar with tech tend not to question policies that sound tedious and claim to prevent crime, terrorism and child molesting. But there are fleas which come with this hi-tech guard dog and the above merely describes just one small area of what’s going to be collected.
[Update: Extra links and info from social media discussion]
This article is being discussed on reddit, here.
The iPhone has something similar anyway. Just go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Frequent Locations (You can also disable it – and it is even creepier because it can tell when you were actually there or just passing through and it knows EXACTLY when you arrive and leave.) From doggie015
Crikey – Data retention will hurt YOU, not criminals. Here’s how via kqqw
TED Talk – Malte Spitz – Your phone company is watching via sciencetaco