The Government and metadata

This resource will show you how the Australian Government collects information and stores metadata.

What is metadata?

Metadata is data about data - it is not the message you've sent, but who you sent the message to, on what date, and where you sent it from.

When people talk about metadata, often they are talking about the metadata related to their emails, text messages and phone calls although metadata is likely collected on all your internet activities.

Despite not including the exact content of the call you made or message you've sent, metadata can still tell someone a lot about your life. 

In 2017, the Federal Government's controversial mandatory data retention laws came into full effect. The laws require telecommunication providers and ISPs to store telephone, Internet and email metadata for two years.

The Attorney-General has broad discretion on which agencies are allowed to access metadata, including private agencies.

Learn more about the Data Retention bill.

Why is the Australian Government interested in our metadata?

The Australian Government introduced these laws to combat terrorism, but by doing so have forced Australians to concede some of their privacy.

Metadata collection has been criticised for its vulnerability to hackers, its threat to journalistic integrity and for the potential for the cache to be misused.


Example 1 - Tell me about Will

During the controversy a journalist, Will Ockenden, requested his phone records from Telstra and challenged the public to analyse them.

Watch this video to see the extent of what they found out. You can also read Wills' article on the results for further information.

What can I do about it?

If you are concerned about the government or another organisation collecting your data you might like to consider using services and apps that prevent or reduce the ability to collect your data.

Me and My Shadow has a list of privacy protecting tools and platforms.

Think about this story. What do you think Will's readers found out about him?

Example 2 - My Health Record

What is My Health Record?

My Health Record is an electronic health record developed by the Australian government to help share patient information between doctors so that information is on hand when needed.

Information in a record may include health summaries, Medicare and prescription data and test results.

In 2018, the government announced that all Australians would have a record automatically created for them unless they choose to opt out.

What’s all the fuss about?

The primary privacy concerns around My Health Record are who can access it and how they can use the data.

Health information is personal and therefore sensitive. While it may be beneficial to have information about your health on hand for doctors in the case of an emergency, you may want to maintain your privacy for variety of personal reasons.

A common concern regarding My Health Record focuses on who can access it and how that person or organisation could use the data.

For example, a concern is that other government bodies will be granted access and allowed to make decisions based on the data contained in a My Health Record. You can opt out of My Health Record.

What can I do?

If you are concerned about your data being collected, try and find out if you can request that the organisation collecting it ceases to do so.

If you are concerned about the government collecting your data use services/apps that reduce the capability of the government tracking you. Me and My Shadow has a list of privacy protecting tools and platforms.


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