Gluttons of Information: The Metadata Confusion in Oz

Published on Dissident Voice, by Binoy Kampmark, August 8, 2014.

It is sometimes hard to know whether those in power adopt a policy of confusion purposely, or through grand design. When it comes to the flawed policy of data retention on a mass scale, a burden that is bound to fall on telecommunications companies, the problem is most acute of all. What is to be kept? What falls within that broad term metadata?

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, a somewhat challenged individual in twenty first century politics, is one such example. Here, dinosaur meets politician, and the result is far from pretty. It is less pretty for the fact that his Attorney-General, George Brandis, is talking another language on the same subject.

Neither seems entirely clear what the subject of metadata constitutes … //

… Australia remains virginal when it comes to matters associated with accessing metadata, with authorities totally oblivious to a scheme of rights and protections to prevent overstretch of power. Even the independent national security legislation monitor, Bret Walker SC, has suggested a warrant system. By all means, store the data, but ensure some means of control when accessing it. Traditionally conservative voices from such organisations as John Roskam of the IPA have also warned that, “Once it happens there is no winding this back. It gives enormous power to the government over people’s privacy. The material will leak. It will be used for purposes not related to anti-terrorism.”

The assumption here is that the authorities will stick to the straight and narrow, refusing to step into the realms of illegality. Sticking to such protocols of propriety is, however, impossible in an age where metadata is the guiding principle of the information age. All governments want to feast on it, and they get rather frustrated when the civil rights lobby remind them that information should not be there for the taking without just and probable cause.

The excuse, as it always tends to be, is also one of blunt pragmatism. Privacy rights, and correlative obligations to respect them, tend to be matters of nuisance to spy chiefs and figures behind the intelligence gathering apparatus. For Irvine, having a warrant for each request for metadata would see “the whole system…grind to a halt.” This is patent nonsense, seeing as an intelligence service operating within the boundaries of warrants and judicial oversight is bound to be better for it. More gaps do not necessarily imply more insecurity or less freedom. It does, in fact, suggest the reverse.

(full text).

(Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: Read other articles by Binoy).

Related Links:

on YouTube – What is Metadata?

Find Metadata also on:

  • on Google News-search;
  • Website: Metadatatraining;
  • on en.wikipedia is “data about data”. The term is ambiguous, as it is used for two fundamentally different concepts (types). Structural metadata is about the design and specification of data structures and is more properly called “data about the containers of data”; descriptive metadata, on the other hand, is about individual instances of application data, the data content. Metadata is traditionally in the card catalogs of libraries. As information has become increasingly digital, metadata are also used to describe digital data using metadata standards specific to a particular discipline. By describing the contents and context of data files, the usefulness of the original data/files is greatly increased …;

Other Links:

NATO plane arrives in Ukraine with $4.5 mn worth of military aid for Kiev troops (VIDEO), 1.17 min, on Russia Today RT, Aug 9, 2014;

Why Money Matters, on New Economic Perspectives, by L. Randall Wray, August 7, 2014;

Egypt: Mega projects make a comeback, This week President Al-Sisi addressed key development projects and national security concerns, Al-Ahram weekly online, by Dina Ezzat, Aug 7, 2014;

Waiting for a flight: Thousands of Egyptians fleeing Libya remain stranded on the Tunisian border, Amirah Ibrahim reports, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Amirah Ibrahim, Aug 7, 2014;

BRICS: Imaginary Lines (E2), 9.33 min, uploaded by TeleSURenglish, Aug 4, 2014;

Tariq Ali interviews President Nicolas Maduro, 32.44 min, uploaded by TeleSURenglish, July 24, 2014 (in spanish, translated in engish); first on;

… and this:

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