I appeared on last week's Q&A show questioning whether collecting metadata on citizens is effective at combating terrorism. My guess is that's its pretty useless. I might be wrong, but security agencies haven't shown us otherwise. I was glad to see that all on the panel — other than the government representative, of course — agreed that spies need to do more to prove their case.
Inevitably I also got the "if you've done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear" line that so often seems to be the response to questioning of whether spying is effective. In fact those were literally the words used by Sussan Ley, the Government MP on the Q&A panel that night.
That response annoys me for two reasons:
- some innocent people have genuine reason to fear their metadata being analysed, and
- my question isn't about catching innocent people, it's about the opposite: not catching terrorists
What we need are tools that are effective at catching terrorist activity, but do not cause people to fear for their own safety.
Right now the vague proposals by the government fail on both counts. Government needs to be a lot more open and honest about what information they want, how it actually helps, and how they protect it from misuse. For all we know this metadata retention scheme is an expensive boondoggle that undermines our safety... if it's not, well then the government needs to make their case instead of dismissing our concerns out of hand.