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Is online metadata private?

by on December 19, 2013

In the world of telecommunications nothing is completely private.  As part of their response to the 2009 Australian Law Reform Commission report concerning secrecy laws and open government, the previous government in 2012 acceded to the European Union’s Convention on Cybercrime that this metadata be collected and stored for two years.

The Prime Minster Tony Abbott is being disingenuous when he stated that metadata is “essentially billing data”.  Metadata is the wrapping around our actual communication— mobile phones, Internet browsers, social media and, yes that old technology telephone landlines.  This metadata includes who telephoned whom, from where, for how long, what websites were visited, for how long, from what computer, what was clicked on, who you following on Twitter, and all your personal biographical details from Facebook.  As Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google memorably said “if I look at enough of your messaging and your location, and use Artificial Intelligence, we can predict where you are going to go”.

When the US government released the names of the 9/11 hijackers on within hours the company Acxiom not only had data about eleven of the nineteen, but using metadata records were able to identify their housemates and other contacts.

The Guardian provides a list of metadata that is collected from the everyday tools that we use—and it makes very sober reading indeed

The implications for society, civil or otherwise are enormous; back to the panopticon or forward to a new 1984.

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