Sunday, 25 July 2010

Attorney-General's Department sure likes black highlighters

The Sydney Morning Herald managed to get their hands on a report that says the government pretty much wants ISPs to record all our browsing history.

Unfortunately it seems that Claudia Hernandez, the department's legal officer and person who handles FoI requests, tried to be helpful and highlighted all the important bits for the SMH. Too bad the highlighter was black, and the important parts is apparently 90% of the document.

Now unlike the CIA who've only just realised that they were using them accidentally, the government did this deliberately.

The Document

The document can be found here.

The proposal page is very enlightening:
Mandatory Data Retention Proposal

Telecommunications data is information about a communication, but does not include the content of the communication. Examples include subscriber information and call charge records.

[10 censored paragraphs follow]

That's the entire proposal that we're allowed to know. The contents of the document has a background a section A that discusses... something, and a section B that discusses something else, but Hernandez was kind enough to tell us that B.2 is "defintions" and B.3. is "Illustrative data". And C. is "Industry Feedback".

Of the background section, the "What is telecommunications data?" section is mostly unscathed, but it has the sentence:

This includes information about the identity of the sending and receiving parties ('A and B parties'), when a communication started and stopped, and the type of communication [censored]

The next section is "How important is telecommunications data?". The answer, apparently, is very. Of 5 paragraphs, one is uncensored, and is basically "The UK found that such a policy was helpful when it comes to solving crime".

Then we get four pages of what looks like a contents of some sort, but it's completely censored. Then four pages of a table, at least we know that the numbers are some sort of "Requirement", but what they are means nothing.

Most of the definitions get off unscathed, however the definition for Broadband Remote Access Server (BRAS) has the last line censored, so I know that it is aggregating information into a core network of some sort.

All the illustrative data (it's another table) is censored.

The "feedback" is not actually any feedback, it's a request for feedback. They are asking ISPs to consider 8 questions, of which we're only allowed to know 5.

So basically you can learn nothing from this document.

The Reasons

But the SMH didn't stop there. They've also given us the reasons from the AG department.

Under "Decision" Hernandez wrote:

3. You will see, however, that I have made some deletions to the documents. ...

Which is, quite clearly, an understatement. It wasn't "some deletions", most of the document is censored. There are two pages that don't have black highlighter. The "Information Sheet" page, and the title page.

Then there is, in paragraph 11 under "Reasons for Decision":

Further, subsection 36(1)(b) [of the Freedom of Information Act] requires that it also be shown that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. I have considered the particular circumstances of the request and those factors which are specific to the facts at hand. Although I acknowledge the public's right to participate in and influence the processes of government decision making and policy formulation, given the early stage of this consultation, the premature release of the proposal could, more then likely, create a confusing and misleading impression. In addition, as the matters are not settled and proposed recommendations may not necessarily be adopted, release of such documents would not make a valuable contribution to public debate. Rather, I consider that release of such documents may lead to premature unnecessary debate and could potentially prejudice and impede government decision making

Yep. The premature release of the proposal could create a confusing and misleading impression. Clearly the answer to that problem is not any form of transparency at all but instead it's to get out the black highlighter.

And why? Because it might lead to "unnecessary debate". This is not an unnecessary debate. The government is potentially suggesting, and Electronic Frontiers Australia put it best, that "if it's logged (or could be logged), the A-G wants it saved."

Frankly I find it more insulting that they even bothered to give the SMH something. If you're going to censor most of the document you might as well not release it at all.

The Greens are annoyed and will probably look into this during their Senate inquiry. Maybe they'll get a more transparent version if the document. They might know what the other two questions in the "feedback" section are and also the four completely censored definitions.

Perhaps they'll be kind enough to tell us what they are.

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