By JENAN TAYLOR
Australians who are serious about protecting their online anonymity need to learn about encryption, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam told a student seminar on the data retention debate.
Speaking at Monash University in April, Mr Ludlam said some popular encryption systems such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) might not provide adequate privacy protection for those who did more than illegally download movies and breach copyright laws online.
“If you’ve got serious reasons to enter the anonymous environment or to protect your communications, if you’re a public whistleblower, if you’re exposing corruption, if you’re a climate change demonstrator, if you’re a journalist, or you just don’t want people going through your stuff, actually learn the encryption tools, not from politicians, but actually talk to people with technical skills,” he said.
He also encouraged people to explore the crypto-party movement, a campaign run by IT experts to show individuals how to use encryption software.
Mr Ludlam’s comments follows emerging evidence that the Australian Government’s data retention scheme, and the new anti-piracy regimes, may be driving rising interest in online communications security.
Essential Media has reported that 16 per cent of Australians are turning to VPNs or Tor Browsers, with more than one in five people aged between 18 and 34 using the tools to protect their online communication.
“For serious anonymity, get savvy about encryption” –
Senator Scott Ludlam
The popularity of Tors, which enable people to browse the internet anonymously, have also increased, with user numbers soaring from an estimated 24,000 to 30,000 since July last year, according to Tor Metrics.
However, Mr Ludlam said that VPNs could still inadvertently impart sensitive information.
“It’s not that these systems don’t generate metadata, or they couldn’t operate. It’s basically machine-readable stuff that allows these services to operate.”
Under the data retention laws, which come into force in October, law enforcement agencies will be able to access two years’ worth of metadata from individuals without a warrant.
The information would be used to fight criminal activity such as terror plots, but may also enable law enforcement agencies to view the financial, medical, political and relationship statuses of people based on their online communications habits.
A number of issues in relation to privacy, human rights, operational costs and metadata storage were also raised at the seminar. The lack of evidence of the usefulness of metadata for countering crime, was a recurring topic.
Federal Liberal MP Michael Sukkar, who also spoke at the seminar, said that metadata in conjunction with “the full suite of investigative techniques” would help law enforcement agencies prove or disprove their suspicions of people who came under their radar.
“Metadata is not a silver bullet, it’s not designed to be, but it would be very useful in helping fight a large cohort of crime,” he said.