Australia’s metadata grab will create modern-day Stasi files
15 October 2014
The following was written by Carly Nyst, Legal Director for Privacy International, and originally appeared in the Guardian's Comment is Free section:
Until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the East German state security service – the Stasi – conducted surveillance and kept files on a third of the country’s population. One of those people was activist and dissident Ulrike Poppe, whose communications and activities were spied on by Stasi operatives constantly for 15 years.
Much of the data that is contained in Poppe’s Stasi files, compiled during the Cold War, would today be considered “telecommunications metadata”. From locations, movements and meetings to relationships, affiliations and associates. Phone calls made and letters sent, as well as newspapers read and movies watched. During the Stasi’s reign, this type of intelligence was the product of covert bugs and undercover spies, a hugely intensive task that kept theirs 91,000 staff busy.
Today it can be easily gleaned from the mass aggregation and retention of data collected and processed by the telecommunications companies that facilitate almost every interaction, communication and action we make. This should raise particular concerns for Australians amid the federal government’s push for two year mandatory data retention. Modern-day Stasi files can be easily created by aggregating and analysing this metadata, which can then be indexed, linked to other databases, and retained for long periods of time at relatively little cost and hassle to the government and the telecommunications companies that they co-opt.