ISPs may be forced to keep tabs on customers

New recommendations in Australia could see Internet Service Providers recording their customers' online activities

Civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia has spoken out against recommendations that could see Internet service providers forced to put their customers under constant surveillance.

The group retaliated to a report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, which looks to combat the problem of law enforcement agencies falling behind the wave of crimes committed using new technology.

The recommendation that triggered the most concern would force ISPs to record customers' online activities, according to EFA's Greg Taylor.

"They're very cautious with words but they're basically saying they want ISPs to be forced to keep records of the activities of their customers," Taylor said. According to Taylor the report wasn't "very specific" about what information should be recorded, "but reading between the lines they're looking for as much information as they can get."

Currently, the interception of telephone communication can only be legally carried out in Australia if a serious crime has been committed, and even then a warrant is required, according to Taylor. The report is saying that ISPs should intercept and record that communication in case it is ever needed for future law enforcement enquiries, which would encourage "fishing expeditions", Taylor said.

An equivalent real-life scenario would be the installation and use of listening devices in public bars around the country that capture private conversations, Taylor said. "There would be a huge outcry, this is the equivalent scenario in an electronic medium," he added. "Eventually one has to call a stop."

The EFA was also concerned to find that the report seemed to recommend the reduction in the level of offence that required law enforcement agencies to use their surveillance powers, and that the report recommends that what were once Federal Government powers be devolved to the States "who don't have a very good track record of putting privacy protection in place," Taylor said.

The EFA believes the report's recommendations would be a dangerous step for society.

"Regrettably we are becoming a surveillance society. Every day we hear of new proposals to increase surveillance, with little evidence of the overall benefits to society. Every time we accept one more form of mass surveillance we are helping to create an Orwellian society for the future - what we might call 'Orwellian creep'. We need to question such developments rather than meekly accepting them," Taylor said.

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