Nice personal data you have there — shame if something were to happen to it

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(Image by Sstrobeck23 via Wikimedia Commons)

What we need to know is that all our personal information is slowly being compiled by the Government to be accessed by one little identifier called MyGovID, writes Noely Neate.

FROM "Children Overboard" to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to "Stop the Boats", Coalition governments have traded in fear to keep Australians cowering. 

This is done with the knowledge that the majority of us are not actually rusted-on to either the Liberal or Labor parties, so scare them enough to enter that voting booth with the notion "better the devil you know" firmly in the forefront of their mind.

The fact that nearly all these scare campaigns are based on a lie? Myeh!

This "fear" of foreigners has been updated and modernised to fit with a new digital age with data retention laws and the most recent piece of fear over-reach, the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017.

Sadly, the Government is fully aware that the average punter at home has no idea how data works and judging by the lack of media attention to these changes in recent years, neither do a majority of the Australian media. Actually, some in the media were worried that they might get harmed by both new legislation. Of course, as soon as the Government made amendments to protect journalists, the issue has been out of the news.

Informing the public and giving a rat's about citizens rights is not in the interest of many in the media.

Which begs the question, if journalists are protected but whistleblowers and ordinary citizens are not, how stupid would you have to be to leak anything to the media? Regardless of how worthy the cause and particularly if it is in the national interest – as in interest to citizens, not governments – you will be tracked down and thrown to the wolves. Your only hope might possibly be that you were smart enough to get around data retention laws, assuming the journalist you chose to inform and their publication would actually protect their source.

Might be a good time to quote from the 'Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey 2017':

'However, those tasked with relaying the results of polls to the general public have not fared as well with only 20% of Australians (up 1%) rating newspaper journalists "very high" or "high" for ethics and honesty and 17% of Australians (down 1%) rating TV reporters "very high" or "high".'

This is a massive problem, since whistleblowers leaking government wrongdoing or falsehoods is truly how we hold governments to account.

Currently, the state of play is the government of the day can hoover up all your data, hand it over to any organisation the attorney-general decrees – all without a warrant – in the name of “keeping Australians safe” from terrorism, of course.

Though I have to say, I must have missed that Greyhound Racing Victoria or RSPCA Victoria were on the frontline of the war on terror. Hmmm ...

Most who work in IT knew the data retention laws were pretty much Big Brother stuff and there will be massive issues in years to come when that data is accessed or breached harming Australians, but hey, it is hard to fight a slogan like “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”.

Shame politicians don’t adhere to their own slogan, considering the massive increases in Freedom of Information requests being knocked back?

While the Coalition Government has been introducing all these laws in recent years, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) set the precedent that allows government departments to dox citizens if they have the temerity to criticise the Government.

This is what the Australian Government did to Andie Fox whose sin was to write a piece critical of Centrelink’s "robo-debt" system. The Government decided this was unfair, and released her financial and personal details to Fairfax, effectively doxing her. This Act by Human Services was tantamount to mafia-style intimidation.

Most people now know that the "robo-debt" system is a flawed algorithm combining data from multiple government databases, including the Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office. If this was a business sending out invoices for amounts that could not be proved to be owing, with heavy-handed tactics suggesting the AFP could be rocking up to your door if you don’t pay up, well, we would call that a "phishing" exercise and that is illegal.

Now we have the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation Michael Keenan running around like an over-excited puppy lauding his “myGovID”. It is going to be so wonderful! All the data you enter and give the government – from tax information the ATO to health information via the new “*MyHealth”, mums signing up for new childcare arrangements, Centrelink, NDIS you name it – MyGovID, will cover the lot. What could go wrong? 

Oh, that's right, the Government can dox you if criticise them and they have all your pertinent information on file?

The irony of this situation is all the squealing from the Turnbull Government about wanting Facebook's Zuckerberg to front up to Australia’s intelligence committee to answer questions about what data was shared with Chinese firms. We also have had politicians in the past worried about effect of Cambridge Analytica on elections. Now they have really upped the ante, wanting Parliament to quickly pass these new foreign interference laws ASAP to protect the "Super Saturday" by-elections in late July. Pretty much any interference which might harm them actually getting their sweet little taxpayer-funded job in an election. Seriously?!

For propaganda on social media to change your vote, I think you sort of had to be going in that direction anyhow for the fake news to validate your decision. Not to mention, unlike Government departments who are "forcing" Australians to go online and hand over all of their personal data to them in order to access services, Facebook is a choice. Don’t get me wrong, I despise what Cambridge Analytica did and how Facebook cared more about a profit than protecting its users, but you don’t have to be on those social media platforms, you do have a choice.

If we really want to be worried about foreign Influence in our elections or, in this case, the upcoming Super Saturday by-elections, we need look no further than the foreign-owned Murdoch publications, which seem to be doing a good enough job as it is. The Coalition even used Courier Mail front pages as election material – and not just online but at voting booths – back in the 2015 Qld election campaign.

Considering the OAIC set a precedent in deciding the government has the right to dox you with your own information if you criticise them publicly, it is our government we need to be afraid of.

I don’t think Facebook or the Chinese are likely to hand over my new address to an abusive ex-partner. They are not likely to send me a threatening letter demanding I pay a bill, I may or may not owe. My own government can and will.

If you are the sort who looks at anything data or IT related and your eyes glaze over, fair call, you don’t need to know all the technical details.

What you do need to know is all your data and personal information is slowly being compiled by the government to be accessed by one little identifier called MyGovID and you need to ask yourself whether you trust this Government and future governments to:

  • protect your personal information;
  • keep your personal information safe from data breaches or illegal access;
  • never sell your data to third parties such as polling companies, insurance companies, banks and so on;
  • never use your own data against you; and
  • never use this data for propaganda purposes?

I urge everyone to ask more questions and trust those IT types who are asking the right questions on our behalf — those same types who were mocked as paranoid in the mainstream media but were right about #Fraudband and #CensusFail. Think about that.

*MyHealth could be great and it may really help to have all your information online but you have to trust that the information will be kept secure and won’t be flogged off to private health Insurance companies to be used against you in future. If you trust the Government, great. If not, you have until October 15 to opt out.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

You can support the GetUp campaign calling for amendments to this legislation here

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