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Starting today, your metadata will be retained. What can you do about it?

Twitter has recently been flooded with vacuous ‘international days’, such as International Unicorn Day or International Puppy Day.

Well, now you can add a much more important day to your calendar, and that’s today, April 13.

Privacy advocate group Digital Rights Watch is calling for April 13 to be “National Get a VPN Day” because today the government’s mandatory data retention scheme comes into effect.

It all started in March 2015, when parliament passed laws requiring all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telcos to store their customers’ telecommunications metadata. There was some public outcry, but that didn’t stop the law from being passed largely unhindered.

Since large amounts of data would have to be recorded, the ISPs and telcos were given time to get their systems ready to handle the burden of spying on millions of Aussies.

Today, the deadline ran out so from now on all Australian telecommunication providers are required to collect your metadata and provide it to the government.

Famously, the man behind the laws, George Brandis, had a quite a bit of trouble explaining defining metadata in an absolute train wreck of an interview. So what is it? And should you care?

Essentially, metadata is like your digital footprint. For example, if I were to call you right now, the government would know the date and time of our call, our locations, and how long we spoke, but not what we spoke about.

The same goes for websites. Starting today, the government knows which websites you visit but not the content you are viewing. However, web addresses can tell a whole lot, and by connecting the dots between your web history, the government can learn plenty about you.

“But I have done nothing wrong!” you might say. However, things aren’t so black and white.

Earlier this year, ABC News reported that private phone and internet metadata collected under the new scheme could be used in divorce cases or to combat internet piracy.

Fiona McLeod, president of the Law Council of Australia, told ABC News that she had “grave concerns”, adding:

The regime that’s in place is one of the most intrusive regimes in the industrialised world. If they are to extend that use to civil proceedings, it goes well beyond the justification of those laws.

The report concluded that, although there is a prohibition on courts authorising access to data from civil proceedings, Parliament could approve regulations that allow exceptions. In other words, we are now on a slippery slope to 1984. Great job, government!

The Chairman of Digital Rights Watch, Tim Singleton Norton said:

There is little transparency around the functioning of the data retention regime, which has very few requirements for public disclosure about who accesses the data. Data can be obtained, without a warrant, for any offence — not just serious crimes. This completely undermines the ‘safety’ argument currently put forward by the government as justification for the scheme.

In order to protect yourself from what basically amounts to mass government surveillance, Digital Rights Watch suggests you get a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and his written this guide to assist you.

Sadly, the death of online privacy in Australia has a way of slipping through the cracks in the media. This morning, I counted sixteen news stories about Lisa Wilkinson’s blouse and about three on data retention.

There is nothing sexy about metadata, ISPs and VPNs so it’s unlikely to harvest the valuable eyeballs and clicks of punters.

However, maybe one day we’ll look back on today as the day that our privacy was sold to the highest bidder.

Happy National VPN Day everyone!

For a more comprehensive guide on how to protect your privacy, you can check out this post by award-winning app creator Quentin Zervass.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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