Aussie data retention so dangerous it's 'dynamite': Berners-Lee

Summary:Sir Tim Berners-Lee has branded the Australian government's data retention proposals as "fraught with massive danger," and containing the possibility to hold every Australian to ransom if data logs are stolen.

A controversial plan to store information about personal internet and telephone usage in Australia has been criticised by the world wide web's inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Internet service providers and telecommunications companies would be asked to store data that passes through their networks for up to two years under plans being considered by the Federal government.

Law enforcement agencies want the data retained to help fight crime.

Speaking in Sydney on Tuesday, Berners-Lee said that although it is important that technology is used to help fight crime, data retention laws could result in a nation where Australians are trapped by their own information.

"You'll produce a world where a teenager who really needs to visit an online forum to get some professional advice...realises that if they click, they will be branded for the next two years as having gone to that site."

He said that the proposed laws seemed to be "fraught with massive danger," and likened it to a time bomb waiting to explode.

"That information is so dangerous, you have to think about it as dynamite. If it gets away, what you've done is prepare a dossier on every person on the country that will allow them, if that dossier is stolen, to be blackmailed."

He pointed out the absurdity of keeping the government accountable, asking the question of who would watch the watchers.

"When you have something that dangerous; if you have a government agency that deals with that, then boy, do you have to have another government agency with the same power looking at that first government agency to check what it actually does. I can see no country that has set up those two: how to watch the watchers and the watchers of the watchers."

Berners-Lee also said that such a data retention system would do little to catch serious criminals because they would find ways around it, including using encrypted and secure networks, and that logs "won't contain information for stopping serious criminals, only the people who've taken out too many library books."

"They are going to use Tor, or they're going to so through some intermediate node. They're going to go to certain trouble to secure it. They'll open up a tunnel or VPN," he said, adding that these measures also have legitimate uses among whistleblowers and should not be shut down.

He said that it would instead serve to scare people away from legitimate, but more private uses of the internet, such as looking for advice on personal matters like their sexuality.

"Imagine that if someone would actually end up not be able to use the web for these very, very intimate things. Remember that sometimes, we share with the web things that they don't even share with their nearest and dearest."

Topics: Security, Australia, Government, Government : AU

About

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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