What is Data Retention?
Under new legislation which seems likely to be passed very soon, information about your phone and computer use will be kept by telecommunications companies for two years. This information includes every website you visit, every phone number you dial, and every message you send. Using a 'private' or 'incognito' browsing mode will not prevent this information being collected.
Similar legislation has been struck down in Europe as too intrusive and a breach of privacy, however it seems the regulations will go ahead in Australia. It is intended that data from this "system of passive, mass surveillance" will be available to government agencies without warrant.
Given that the legislation was amended to 'protect' journalists but provides no protection for the lawful but private activities of Private Investigators, we share some tips on how to protect yourself.
How to protect yourself
Protecting yourself from this warrant-less digital surveillance is actually very simple.
First, using an overseas-based email provider, rather than the one provided by your ISP which comes with your internet connection. This will prevent data about who you email, and who emails you, being automatically available.
A second level of security is to encrypt your email, however this relies on those you email also altering their behaviour. Exactly how to encrypt your email depends on which email provider or email software you use.
A VPN (virtual private network) is a good tool to protect your privacy and security. It works by acting as a middleman - you connect to the VPN, and the VPN connects to the rest of the internet. Because your traffic to and from the VPN is encrypted, and the VPN does not retain or disclose its data, where you go online and what you do remains private from the government's eyes. All they can see is that you are using a VPN.
For added privacy for certain activities, consider the use of a TOR setup.
A VPN is generally a subscription service at around $50 per year, however some also offer free use with some limitations. For price, function and ease of use, our recommendations include those listed below, but there are others which are just as good. Remember you should also consider setting up a VPN connection on your phone or mobile device.
Rather than using SMS to convey short messages, use a messenger service like Google+ Hangouts (Google Talk GChat, Hangouts, or whatever they're renamed it by the time you read this), SnapChat, TextSecure, or if you really must - iMessage.
Rather than dialling a number directly, consider an online VOIP provider such as Skype, Hangouts, Viber, Voxer, or Redphone. For short voice messages, try Zello - we use this instead of 2-way-radios for some operations.
Given how quick and easy it is to completely hide yourself from the proposed metadata collection,and that any criminal or terrorist with an average IQ or better will surely be hiding their data too, it does make us wonder why the government is spending time and money collecting it.