Porn jokes are great, data retention is not

Summary:The latest scandal about the NSW Government disgusts me. It doesn't disgust me that someone was using public resources to look (or not look) at porn, but rather because that technology was used in exactly the way most citizens don't want it used.

The latest scandal about the NSW Government disgusts me. It doesn't disgust me that someone was using public resources to look (or not look) at porn, but rather because that technology was used in exactly the way most citizens don't want it used.

While developing an internet filtering policy, a preliminary report was created identifying a list of "potentially inappropriate websites" that had been accessed via the parliamentary network, according to a statement issued by NSW Legislative Assembly Speaker Richard Torbay.

A secondary report had identified some users with "internet usage patterns that may require further investigation to determine whether any breaches of the parliament's internet and email usage policy have occurred". These users reportedly included Labor MP Paul McLeay and Christian Democrat Fred Nile.

Now, given that a filtering mechanism was being put in place, and that the NSW Government really has had quite enough scandal as it is, you'd think some quiet questioning and a slap on the wrist would have sufficed. Certainly the information was probably never meant to go public.

But someone leaked the information in the reports. And I can see why they might have felt that they needed to do that.

However, the simple fact is that this is a case of where data has been gathered which is potentially damaging to someone, detailing their internet usage. And that data found its way into places it shouldn't have.

Are you thinking about data retention yet? Because I am.

(For those of you not in the know, the Federal Government is considering introducing a regime that would see it collect information on phone calls and emails, such as from whom they were sent or to whom as well as the time and date of the communication. Sources have also said that the proposal would involve keeping a record of websites visited.)

We don't want to be policed as to what we view. We certainly don't want there to be a record of what we try and visit — especially if it's not illegal.

Accidents do happen. Data can go astray, and then other people will have a knife made of information to threaten us with.

I wouldn't like that. I don't think you would either.

So why is it OK for NSW Parliament to do the same thing to its MPs? Does everyone think this is fine because politicians aren't really people? I have to say that if pollies are having their lives turned upside down by technology, with a big brother sitting on their shoulder, they'll be less likely to protect our rights not to have a similar system imposed on us.

And that's before you consider that the information gathered might not have been particularly accurate.

The statement from the speaker reads:

The information contained in both reports, however, is not reliable as it does not provide reporting that would indicate whether a user has accessed a site inappropriately. In both reports, a recorded "hit" includes access to a legitimate site, such as a newspaper site, which may contain links to other sites that would be categorised as adult content. It is therefore not yet possible to identify any potential breaches of the Parliament's Internet and Email Usage Policy and the report being referred by the media therefore contains information that is misleading and unreliable.

Parliamentary management are attempting to verify the accuracy of any of the information contained in the report and are reviewing the internet usage of the registered users on the parliament network.

So, before you rub your hands and laugh at MPs that use their computer for porn, have a think about if you want someone watching what you do. Because it might come to that.

Topics: Government, Government : AU, Privacy, Security

About

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for t... Full Bio

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