Open bar. We’ve all been at the Electron Workshop Privacy conference watching Tim Wilson have strips peeled off of him. Senator Ludlam is across the room. Some kid using a drone to fly a glass smashes it. Cobi Smith, fresh from Citizen Cyberlab in Geneva, is egging me on to ask Ludlam for a job. Nick Jaffe, the organiser of the privacy workshop is standing with us. Jaffe’s left eye is bloodshot- he has been working on the conference for months. Jaffe arranged for me to interview Ludlam this morning. Jaffe laughs when I tell Cobi I would rather approach the Senator for a job after he reads my hardboiled article. I figure if I can just go home and smash out a Walkley award winning piece then I will ask. Cobi says, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ I say, ‘Ludlam peels off his face to reveal he’s actually Brandis.’ But Cobi drags me over. There are 5 people talking to Ludlam. I recognise Asher Wolf, a sci-fi novelist and two others. A 3D printer is printing a skull. It has just finished the teeth. Cobi opens, ‘Hey Scott, you know how yesterday we had a conversation about how people should revive their home state? Well here is a person who is considering moving back to Perth.’ Ludlam turns and recognises me as the awkward person from this morning. This is the chance. The bit where I’m meant to say something ballsy and epic about mandatory data retention. This is my eight mile moment. I say. ‘Ah. Yep.’
Senator Ludlam has a flat white in his hand but it may as well be a crystal ball. A week from now the third tranche of national security law amendments is up for debate. Attorney General Brandis is pushing for amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act to retain metadata and engage in a spot of indiscriminate surveillance.
Senator Ludlam thinks this round is different from the recent amendments in that it isn’t really about national security, ‘ASIO was obviously a national security bill, the foreign fighters one is unambiguously a national security bill but data retention is not. It’s about Centrelink. The Victorian Police. And anti corruption work and all this other really valuable stuff. It’s only peripherally to do with national security.’
At the privacy conference, where Ludlam is a speaker, alongside groups such as Electronic Frontiers Australia, Privacy International and Thoughtworks, there is strong opposition to mandatory data retention. But it’s not just media lawyers and hackers fighting data retention, ‘Considering the fear and panic buttons that are being pushed relentlessly by the government there is a really high degree of scepticism and push back,’ Ludlam says, ‘Most people aren’t whistleblowers or national security journalists-they’re not going to be directly affected by the ASIO bill- but everybody carrying a mobile phone around has a stake in data retention.’
Ludlam is cynical of the next stage, ‘If they are repeating the behaviour of the last two bills, they will probably refer it to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS)’.There are not any crossbench votes in the PJCIS. The independent Andrew Wilkie was on it last year but he was removed. Ludlam thinks this is a problem, ‘Then you’ve got a room full of Senators debating a bill that they haven’t read… Joint Committee is closed so it cuts most people out of the process…Which is a typical problem.’
Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 was introduced to the House of Representatives on October 30 and, as predicted, was referred to the PJCIS for review. 12 members have publicly stated their opposition to the Bill- the Greens, the Liberal Democratic Party and independent Senator Xenophon. Ludlam needs 25 Labor and one other member to vote no to kill this Bill come February.