March 21, 2018

PRIVACY: How I went dark in Australia’s surveillance state for 2 years.

In 2015, during the transition from paper to Opal [contactless public transit cards], Australia passed sweeping new data retention laws. These laws required all Australian internet service providers and telecommunications carriers to retain customers’ phone and internet metadata for two years — details like the phone number a person calls, the timestamps on text messages or the cell tower a phone pings when it makes a call.

Suddenly, Australians were fighting for the right to stay anonymous in a digital world.

On one side of the fence: safety-conscious civilians. They argued that this metadata was a powerful tool and that the ability to track a person’s movements through phone pings or call times was vital for law enforcement.

On the other side of the fence: digital civil libertarians. They argued that the data retention scheme was invasive and that this metadata could be used to build up an incredibly detailed picture of someone’s life.

And sitting in a barn two paddocks away from that fence: me, switching out burner phones and researching VPNs.

When it emerged that police had the power to search Opal card data, track people’s movements and match this to individual users, it was the last straw. August 2016 rolled around, paperless tickets were phased out and I hatched my plan.

It’s a fascinating story.

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