Talking data retention (again) on Balls Radio

My regular spot on Phil Dobbie’s Balls Radio this week was a conversation (yes, another one) about the Australian government’s data retention proposals.

Here’s the audio of my segment. As you’ll hear, it’s much the same argument as in my last post about the Patch Monday podcast, with random asides about the meaning of misogyny and what should be done with real estate agents.

Yes, there’s a few audio dropouts. Welcome to the joys of using Skype over Telstra Next G mobile broadband while 1.5 kilometres into the eucalypt scrubland.


If you’d like more Balls Radio, have a listen to the full episode. You can subscribe over at the website.

Insulted, ASIO? That’s not really the problem, surely?

There aren’t many places in the world where you can openly accuse the nation’s top police and intelligence agencies of having an attitude problem, as I did on Monday, without being visited by the men in the van with the canvas sack. Which is a good thing.

In this week’s Patch Monday podcast, embedded immediately below for your convenience and CBS Interactive’s traffic logging, I departed from the usual format to present a personal opinion.

Data retention for law enforcement is one of the most important political issues relating to our use of the internet now and as far into the future as we care to imagine, I said, and it’s being mishandled.

The Australian government’s current one-page working definition (PDF) of what constitutes communications metadata (which can be requested by law enforcement agencies without a warrant) as opposed to communications content (which generally does require a warrant) is, to anyone with a technical understanding of how the internet actually works and is evolving, virtual gibberish.

“Dangerously immature” is how I described it.

I also raised three points where I think the version of reality being promoted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is wrong.

  • This is a push for more power. We conduct so much more of our lives online than we ever did on the phone, and that means the balance of power is changing. We need to have a conversation about this.
  • The AFP says quite specifically that they’re not after our web browsing activity, but I don’t see how the working document supports that argument. And other agencies, including the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), are after that stuff.
  • ASIO and the AFP constantly talk about the powers being needed to catch the terrorists and pedophiles. But the law will probably be modelled on the current law for the phone, which provides access to communication metadata to many other agencies with far less stringent accountability rules for many other, far less serious, crimes.

Please have a listen and tell me what you think.


The podcast stands on its own, but I want to emphasise the thing that still disturbs me…

Continue reading “Insulted, ASIO? That’s not really the problem, surely?”

Weekly Wrap 67: Spring comes to Sydney

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets. A relatively quiet week, because I took a bit of time off in Kuala Lumpur and then in Sydney when I returned.



Media Appearances


Corporate Largesse



Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream. The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags.

[Photo: Sydney cityscape, photographed from Potts Point, photographed with my new Nikon Coolpix S8100 camera. I really did need a decent digital still camera for editorial work, and this will do the trick.]

No Canberra for cyberwar after all

As it happens, I didn’t end up going to the 2nd National Cyber Warfare Conference in Canberra this week. The conference sessions weren’t open to the media, and I decided that it wasn’t worth the trip if we’d have to rely on second-hand information.

That said, we did manage to get a recording of the over-dinner speech by David Irvine, the director-general of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, which Liam Tung turned into the story “Insidious” cyber chaos too fast for ASIO. It also served as part of the inspiration for my story Yet another free pass for Aussie spooks.

Who wants to go to Canberra anyway?

However SC Magazine did send Darren Pauli and John Hilvert, and their stories were:

Fowler’s Assange biography not really so bad

A couple weeks ago I wrote that Andrew Fowler’s biography of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, The Most Dangerous Man in the World, was failing to impress. I persisted reading, however, and things got better.

My main gripe then was that just 41 pages into the narrative I was getting the distinct impression that Melbourne University Press hadn’t assigned an editor who had the faintest grasp of internet technology, history and culture. I listed a bunch of what, to me, were glaring errors.

However once we get past Assange’s earlier hacker life and into more recent material, which is more about interpersonal relationships and international politics, the book is significantly stronger. Indeed, The Most Dangerous Man in the World does a good job of tying together the various threads of the Assange and WikiLeaks stories, and even buries on page 217 an important revelation — if it is a revelation.

I have been reliably told that ASIO played an active part in the investigation into Assange, trawling through his life and activities in Australia. But what must be just as worrying for him, and has also never been revealed before, is the fact that the inquiry also included officers from ASIS, Australia’s overseas intelligence agency, which has strong links with the US.

Personally I’m not surprised by that news one bit. That’s just the intelligence organisations doing their jobs of investigating perceived threats to national security, as should be expected. But given how some folks get all frothed up whenever they discover that spooks are involved, I’m wondering why this wasn’t given more prominence.

The book still has some curious wording, such as on page 147 where WikiLeaks is described as “a child of the anarchic blogosphere”. I’m not sure that’s the right heritage to stress and, as I wrote before, Robert Manne’s free-to-read essay in The Monthly does a much better job of capturing Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ cypherpunk roots. On page 165 there’s a reference to “what’s known as the DefCon conference”, as if there’s some doubt as to the name of one of the longest-running and most-respected hacker events on the planet. And there’s still plenty of that sloppy editing I referred to, such as the Chaos Computer Club being explained twice.

Nevertheless, reading The Most Dangerous Man in the World will give you the core narratives. Just be aware that the technical and cultural descriptions are wobbly, and use it to get the timelines straight in your head.