Step with care in our digital age minefield
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.