Moore / Why we need to be saved from Facebook

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THE Abbott “Nanny State” is upon us. Governments should be protecting our privacy – not attacking it.

Michael Moore.
Michael Moore.
The very people who have been vigorous in their arguments for freedom are in the process of introducing more surveillance of ordinary people.

Additionally, they are failing to protect us from attacks on our privacy by international entities such as Facebook.

Freedom of speech was the justification Attorney-General George Brandis provided when he moved to remove Section 18 (c) from the Racial Discrimination Act. His intention was to allow people to speak their mind – even though the impact was devastating on those who suffered discrimination. It is ironic that the same Attorney-General now puts that on hold to interfere with the freedom of ordinary people.

Loss of freedoms is a gradual, step by step process. Metadata information is already being gathered according to the government and reiterated by ASIO Chief, David Irvine. He argued ASIO is targeting suspect individuals and not embarking on a “great mass surveillance exercise or mass invasion of privacy”. The real issue for protection of privacy is around checks and balances.

Irvine has a tough job. He recently said: “My organisation is working in overload at the present time to deal with the way in which the terrorist threat… is suddenly starting to impact on Australian citizens and on the security of Australian citizens.”

He was supported by Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Andrew Colvin saying that retaining data is “not a new power” for law enforcement or security agencies.

Perhaps it is not really a new power. But are there appropriate checks and balances for such extensive powers? Use of these powerful tools should require case by case approval by courts.

The role of government should not just be about checks and balances on their own agencies. They also need to protect ordinary people from a further insidious, creeping blight on our freedoms that is permeating the lives of millions of Australians.

A previously voluntary Facebook app is now being made a requirement for users wishing to send messages to their “friends”. Even when it was voluntary, people such as Sam Fiorelli in the “Huffington Post” were vigorously warning the billion or so users worldwide who had already adopted it to get rid of the app.

The detail was in the fine print of the contract. Who really checks the contract when downloading apps when it won’t download if you do not tick the “agree” box? However, the contract on the Facebook Messenger’s Mobile App delivers extraordinary powers of surveillance to that company. The app was voluntary. Now it is the only way to send messages in Facebook from mobile devices.

Fiorelli points out the conditions. These are powers that simply should not be allowed with agreement or not. When downloading the Facebook app the user allows it to:

  • Take pictures and videos with the camera and to record audio with the microphone. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without confirmation.
  • Call phone numbers and to send SMS messages without user intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls.
  • Read the phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls. This permission allows apps to save call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without users’ knowledge.
  • Read data about contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency of the calls, emails, or communications in other ways with specific individuals.

The government has a role to intervene. The permission a user gives does not just interfere with the user’s privacy and those around. Facebook Mobile Messenger also facilitates the app getting a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications the user has installed. Bank account apps are not excluded.

Governments argue for more power to protect people from terrorism. It is a strong argument. However, the power must not be unfettered. Just as the government has rights, it also has responsibilities. Checks and balances are critical to avoid sliding into George Orwell’s world of “Nineteen Eighty Four”. Perhaps the title should be adjusted thirty years.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

Sam Fiorelli. “The Insidiousness of Facebook Messenger’s Mobile App Terms of Service” (12/01/2013) at

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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