Step with care in our dig­i­tal age mine­field

Sunday Mail - - OPINION -

REV­E­LA­TIONS that po­lice and gov­ern­ment agen­cies have ac­cessed what is com­monly known as “meta­data” will di­vide opin­ion. Some may ar­gue the gov­ern­ment ac­cess­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, such as phone num­bers and email ad­dresses, is a step too far.

The fact the num­ber of agen­cies able to access the data has been re­duced and NBN Co en­cour­age Aus­tralians to pro­tect their meta­data high­lights the con­cerns have some le­git­i­macy.

But any South Aus­tralian that be­lieves their on­line and dig­i­tal foot­print on the world is not pub­lic have to be kid­ding them­selves.

There are at least two po­lit­i­cal wannabes that have found this out the hard way yes­ter­day.

Nick Xenophon’s SA Best can­di­date Rhys Adams’ po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions were done and dusted within 24 hours af­ter du­bi­ous Face­book posts from two years ago saw him sacked by his new boss.

Fel­low can­di­date Kelly Gladi­gau has also been thrust into the spot­light af­ter a joint Face­book ac­count with her hus­band was dis­cov­ered with a com­ment de­scrib­ing AFL great Adam Goodes as look­ing like an ape.

They are posts ob­vi­ously cre­ated to be shared with fam­ily and friends, and have now been seen by thou­sands of strangers in what would prob­a­bly be seen as an in­tru­sion by the pair.

But the in­ci­dent shows just a tip of the ice­berg of what is seen and stored by global or­gan­i­sa­tions like Face­book.

The so­cial me­dia gi­ant is con­stantly min­ing data-rich pro­files for in­for­ma­tion that can be on­sold to ad­ver­tis­ers. Face­book knows if you bar­rack for Port Ade­laide Power or the Ade­laide Crows. It can know if you like to watch ro­man­tic come­dies on Net­flix or Swedish crime noir on SBS.

It can know if you are a “Yes” or “No” voter in the mar­riage equal­ity de­bate.

It can know the ages of your chil­dren and their favourite tele­vi­sion pro­grams.

It can know when you got mar­ried, when you cel­e­brate your birth­day and when your loved ones passed away.

Of course, it is pos­si­ble to not leave such a dig­i­tal foot­print.

But it ef­fec­tively re­quires peo­ple to not par­tic­i­pate on so­cial me­dia.

It does pro­vide per­spec­tive when con­sid­er­ing how con­cerned South Aus­tralians should be about po­lice and other agen­cies ac­cess­ing meta­data.

The vast ma­jor­ity of cases po­lice have used the in­ves­tiga­tive tool are for crimes all fair-minded South Aus­tralians should find ab­hor­rent – mur­der, sex­ual as­sault and il­licit drug of­fences.

The fact the tool has been used for more ob­scure in­ves­ti­ga­tions, like au­dits of first home­own­ers grants and il­le­gal fish­ing ac­tiv­ity, should re­ally not come as a sur­prise.

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