In recent years, the issue of users’ online privacy has been a hot button subject all over the world, and it seems that Australia has been taking a step back in this regard.
In March 2015, the Parliament of Australia passed the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015.
This law stipulated that Australian ISPs and telecommunication companies had to begin collecting and retaining phone and internet activity for a two-year period starting on April 14, 2017.
It has been a week since the deadline passed and internet users in the country have started to take additional steps to ensure their online privacy.
However, the real implication of this law for Australians is yet to be understood by the general public.
The metadata to be collected will cover account holder information and communication details.
Account holder information includes names, addresses, dates of birth, and email addresses amongst other identifying information.
The communication detail data includes mode of communication, the network facilitating the communication (Wi-Fi, VoIP, CABLE or ADSL), address, and other information of the communication receiver as well as the location information.
It is worth noting that this legislation does not include online browsing information or any activities Australians engage in while online.
This new law may have been necessitated by the increased instances of criminal activity facilitated by the dark web.
In most countries, ISPs are not required to store online user browsing information.
They can choose to keep this data for various purposes, however.
In light of the increasing online privacy concerns, ISPs have the incentive to protect the privacy of their clients.
The information gathered by the ISPs and telecom companies could be available to a significant number of Australian government departments; a percentage of these departments have mandated authority to warrant access to the information while others have requested access.
As such, the online privacy of Australians has been greatly impacted.
These agencies have the capability of using this metadata against them as has been witnessed in other countries that have enacted similar laws.
This information may be utilized in civil cases (copyright infringement cases, for instance).
This mandatory information retention constitutes a violation of user’s online privacy rights as well as expectations.
In order to ensure online privacy, the best option available to Australian is the usage of a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
The Australia’s Digital Rights Watch even termed April 13, 2017 as the country’s National Get a VPN Day.
The chairperson of the organization, Tim Singleton Norton, emphasized the significance of this day as a day that Australia’s online privacy suffered a major setback.
He went on to urge all users of the internet in Australia to take the necessary steps to protect their privacy.
Using VPN technology ensures that communications details including browser history are not accessible to an ISP.
Unfortunately, the option of VPN is not without drawbacks, as this technology has its online privacy concerns.
Most importantly, the VPN service providers have to be entrusted to protect the privacy of their clients.
This means that users have no way of knowing that the service providers are themselves keeping communication records.
Some VPN service providers fail to deliver on their promises to ensure online privacy.
This was the case for a considerable percentage of Android VPN apps, as a study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) revealed.
Among the most damning findings was that 84% of the 283 investigated VPN apps leaked user traffic and 18% did not utilize data encryption at all.
There are well-established and trusted VPN providers with an improved bandwidth that Australians can count on.
Another additional measure that can be used to bolster online privacy, in this case, is using the Tor network.
Tor is among the best online anonymity tools available today.
However, ISPs can still have access to some of the online traffic sent via Tor if users do not take necessary precautionary steps.