back to article Help Australia's PM and attorney-general to define metadata

Australia's prime minister Tony Abbott and attorney-general George Brandis on Tuesday announced that Australia will collect telecommunications metadata. Yesterday, they contradicted each other, and themselves, when attempting to define metadata and exactly what they propose to collect. Both failed to offer a consistent …

  1. Mark 65


    That man is a total arse. To come out with it "wouldn’t extend to, for example, web surfing so what people are viewing on the internet is not going to be caught” and then add “what will be caught is the web address they communicate to” shows how ignorant this prick really is. To think that someone so point blank retarded is in charge of legislating boggles the mind. What a contemptible fuckwit.

    1. RealFred

      Re: Brandis

      At least he's at a higher level than Gillard, Rudd and Conway. None of those could find a web address if their life depended on it.

      1. DiViDeD

        Re: Brandis

        Just because you regard him as a 'higher level' lying thieving fuckwit weasel than some other lying thieving fuckwit weasels doesn't make him admirable.

        I just love the attitude of 'My fuckwit politician can do no wrong because for all his lying, thieving behaviour, he's no more self serving, cheating or outright lying through his bloody teeth than YOUR fuckwit politician'

        And they seriously believe we wouldn't elect <in the name of not invoking Godwin, please insert your own murdering bastard world leader here> as long as he was wearing the right colour rosette?

        1. RealFred

          Re: Brandis

          I said nothing about anyone being admirable

    2. Fluffy Bunny

      Re: Brandis

      If you want contemptible, try the ACT Legistlative Assembly.

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Fluffy Bunny

        You mean we don't need an expensive light rail line to duplicate an existing bus corridor, or an expensive small stadium with no parking to duplicate an existing one?


        We definitely needed that $800k giant fibreglass penisowl though. Melbourne already had one.

    3. Adam 1

      Re: Brandis

      I laughed out loud literally after watching that interview with David Speers. Then I remembered that this is our AG so now I am just depressed.

    4. jgarbo

      Re: Brandis

      Be kind to poor Brandis. He lost the big safety pin that holds up his nappy.

  2. Mark 85

    At last, there's other countries with idiots running things who are equal to what we have here the States. Thank you Austrailia. You're making our Congress look normal now.

    1. Gray Ham

      @Mark 85

      You're welcome.

      The worrying thing is, that they are really not idiots ... I believe they do in fact know what they are doing, but know that they couldn't sell their real plans to the electorate.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Our home-grown numpties are trying desperately to emulate the far-right tea party from the US.

  3. dan1980

    Metadata IS data

    The only way to frame this conversation is to list EXACTLY what is being collected, how long it is being kept, who has access and under what scrutiny.

    The whole metadata/data argument is a semantic diversion. The reason it is becoming such a farce is that the government has pitched this new grab as not being at all intrusive because it is only metadata. Thus, they must maintain that metadata (as opposed to 'real' data) is a benign and routine thing to keep and certainly nothing for anyone to get worked-up about.

    To the semantics, however, metadata is 'data about data' or, data that describes other data. From this it is clear that it is data itself, just a subset, bounded by only definition.

    For me, the delineation is primarily dependent on the use/function of the 'actual' data - i.e. what we are interested in. Metadata, by this definition, is generated/recorded for the purpose of identifying the data you are interested in, usually for search purposes

    In the case of phone calls, the interesting part, in general, is what is said over the phone. Thus, who you said it to, when, and for how long, can be considered to be data that describes the interesting data. If you were looking at your phone bill, you would use that data to identify the calls you made. Likewise with e-mails - you would use the sender/recipient and sent/received date and time to locate and e-mail in your client.

    The important part is that what you are interested in is the 'data' and the details you use to find that data is the metadata. Thus, what is considered metadata is entirely dependent on the use you are putting it to.

    This matters greatly when you talk about Internet browsing histories because the URL can essentially be used to reconstruct what you were viewing. If you know the URL, you can, in general, use that to go to the same page and see exactly what the other person saw. You know what videos they watched on youtube and what images they opened on <insert embarrasing pornography site here>. In other words, you have access to all the 'data' about their internet browsing.

    Therefore a list of URLs accessed most definitely counts as 'data'. It doesn't matter that if the HTTP requests and responses are stored or not - the URL contains 99% of what you need to know for 99% of web browsing.

    More generally, however, as metadata is data about data and can therefore only be defined in reference to the main data it is describing, if you are only storing 'metadata', then at that point, that becomes the 'data'.

    But, again, it's all semantic and a distraction. We need to know exactly what, exactly how, and exactly who. That they have so much trouble explaining this clearly to the public is indicative of:

    • Ignorance
    • Blind acceptance of what they're told by the police/ASIO/the US
    • Dishonesty
    • Unwillingness to engage in a real conversation with the public

    Or, given the number of people who have failed to explain this clearly, all of the above. Whichever it is, it's not good.

    1. Denarius Silver badge

      Re: Metadata IS data

      Dan, right. But the wilful misrepresentation or confusion as to what is being collected IMHO, is partly deliberate obfuscation of the imposition of an uncontrolled surveillance state justified by the claim of increasing safety. The rest is probably sheer ignorance and bulldust. A Yank founding father got it right with his statement about trading liberty for security and getting neither. Indiscriminate data retention will eventually corrupt the spookeries and police as they have access to information suitable for blackmail. Very useful to implement a culture of subservience . Might take a couple of career generations as a culture of unconstrained power takes hold. Lord Melbournes statement about power corrupting applies.

      Meanwhile any real terrorists are likely to be trained in avoiding any surveillance in places where the secret police have never been constrained by law, so they will be missed entirely by the proposed farce. The amateurs might do small damage, but unlike most of the world, it is hard to collect guns and explosives here, even for the crims.

      1. dan1980

        Re: Metadata IS data

        One big indicator of what is happening is that they claim that ISPs are already recording the information but then seem unable to clearly explain what information they are actually proposing to grab.

        Again, either they are just completely ignorant or they are trying to obfuscate what they are doing. Given all the 'experts' they have talked to, it seems hard to believe that they don't know what they are proposing.

        The only way that Brandis could be on any kind of sound footing, technically, is if the proposal is that only the IP addresses will be recorded, and not the actual URLs. That would be more in line with the idea of 'metadata' and would better meet the concept of recording where you've been but not what you've looked at.

        Of course, for some sites, just the IP is enough to provide damaging information but I can't see that it will be only the IP recorded as any site on shared hosting is effectively hidden in ambiguity, which doesn't really gel with the imperative that is being forced down our throats from the pollies and the police.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Metadata IS data

          Looks like they've decided anything's better than nothing. Which, in this day and age of cloudy virtual hosting, is utterly wrong if granny's knitting club website is on the same server as the Taliban overseas recruitment job board.

      2. Tim99 Silver badge

        Re: Metadata IS data


        I think the quote you wanted was from Lord Acton, not Lord Melbourne. It was written because of his concerns about the doctrine of Papal infallibility in Vatican 1, but also refers to temporal politics.

        A longer quotation from the letter is: ...Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it...

        1. Denarius Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Metadata IS data

          @Tim99 You are right, I stand corrected. Can only plead a bad cold and gum abscess affecting the remains of my mind. The end of the quote is very appropriate for the way modern CEOs and holder of high office seem to think they are above the rules of civilised society. NSW ICAC shone much light on that attitude.

    2. IdontWannaHandle

      Re: Metadata IS data

      It's Friday. After work I'm going home and having 1 beer for every mention of the word 'data' in that post!

  4. Denarius Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    and our beloathed PM

    states he is no tech-head. One wonders if he likes being thought of as another Richard Head. Probably too subtle a thought. After all, his party machine sends drones to learn from Tea party droids. No wonder the last election was smoke and low quality flames, but no light. He is not alone. The local party hacks feeble justification for being nice to the big end of Sydney indicated the entire party is infected with a contempt for the average citizen, bogan or not.

    As a Linux Journal purchaser, linux user and ElReg commentard, the goon squads will be alerted by the profile match. The kidnapping laws introduced by brown nose Johnny are still in effect so I wonder when the first leak about disappearances will be in news. Hang on, draconian laws just drafted to make that seriously illegal too. Bunker will have to be local. May be the local library. Small text in political theory books with hard covers might scare them off as there are no pictures. Don't feel like going to an even worse surveillance state # for sarcasm impaired, see text of icon

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: and our beloathed PM

      You think you've got it bad? See what passes for digital activism over here...

      1. Denarius Silver badge

        Re: and our beloathed PM

        I like to, but link was so slow and I detected Java

    2. RealFred

      Re: and our beloathed PM

      And the idiots in the Labor party will need to vote against this legislation or otherwise they can be seen to be agreeing with it. You forgot that the labor loonies tried the same thing when they were in power, but fortunately got beaten by the ISPs and others. Conroy and his religious mates tried the old "think of the children" speil, which fortunately fell on deaf ears. Howard already tried the terrorist approach and lost

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: and our beloathed PM

        Something we can agree on, politicians on both sides, past and present are effectively clueless about the digital age.

        1. Denarius Silver badge

          Re: and our beloathed PM

          digital age ? regrettably AC, politicians seem to be largely clueless in any time. Currently reading Niall Fergusons excellent book "The War of the World". The willful blindness of the intelligentsia and by association, most politicians unable to grasp what was happening post WW1 is as remarkable as the predictable miscalculations of later empires invading Iraq.

          None of this is a new observation. Robert Heinlein wrote that the ability to get elected was proof of inability to govern. Can't recall reference. Tongue in cheek or not, his suggestion was to conscript for a fixed term, people of demonstrated leadership and competence to hold power to resolve the significant issues of the day. Sounds similar to the idea of the Roman Republic dictator. His hope seemed to be that real achievers were likely to go back to what they liked, rather than hang onto power. I suspect that power is more addictive than crack so it would not work.

  5. Flat Phillip

    That's the problem with lies

    One of the difficulty of lying is trying to make sure you remember what falsehoods you have said where and keeping it all straight. When you start getting asked questions about your set of lies, it can go bad very quickly.

    While I think both the PM and A-G are completely incompetent when it comes to anything technical (and probably a lot of other things as well) I suspect the difficulty they had increased because they know they're trying to do something and that something will be unpopular and they don't want to spell it out. It's much easier to spout slogans than do any real work which is what this issue requires.

    As dan1980 and others have said metadata is YOUR data. In fact if I was going to track and link someone, a bucket of metadata is better because its easier to sift, search and make connections with.

    1. RealFred

      Re: That's the problem with lies

      And lying is something that ALL politicians are good at, fortunately none of them have good memories

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That's the problem with lies

      "One of the difficulty of lying is trying to make sure you remember what falsehoods you have said where and keeping it all straight. When you start getting asked questions about your set of lies, it can go bad very quickly."

      * Not applicable to NewsCorpse publications

  6. Private Citizen.AU

    The biggest lie is accessibilty

    The way they are selling it is that they will only store it and use it when they need it But the intelligence agency tools rely on real-time datamining of the whole dataset, both innocent and targets. There is no-time limit on retention once it has been transferred to the intelligence agency

    1. Tim Bates

      Re: The biggest lie is accessibilty

      Not to mention that the same week they're talking about this, someone else announces a database of 1.2 billion user accounts has been collected by hackers... Where exactly are they planning on hiding this data so that it's more secure than anything else in the world? And what is their plan for when MY metadata gets leaked to Russia, China or the NSA?

      Oh, and isn't Brandis also obsessing over internet piracy? Would pirating my email headers give me grounds to sue him?

  7. RealFred

    You would think that with the articles that have been published by El Reg about Australia and the attempted metadata collection by the pollies, that the Brits wouldn't have the same thing place. Sorry but GB is the most watched, recorded and surveilled country on earth. Perhaps you should be looking in your own backyard and fixing them before commenting on things from another country

    1. Denarius Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      why Fred ?

      All comments welcome that are on topic IMHO. Our colonial minded ruling elitez like blindly following their masters, especially if the latest fads don't work. The citizenry are in it together, in a bad way.

    2. DiViDeD

      Love it Fred. "Don't point out what's wrong with OUR country because YOURS isn't perfect"

      I guess, like the political argument, that makes Australia the best in the same way Abbot is a champion because there are people in that other party who are just as bad as him. Thanks, but I'll settle for the "<<Insert name of politician here>> is a lying thieving weasel, and just because other people are too is no excuse to do nothing about it."

      And it's a similar argument "I may be living in a stinky pothole, but I feel no need to climb out because I can point to other people whose potholes are just as deep and stinky as mine"

      1. RealFred

        The difference is yours is currently in place. We still have a chance to stop ours

        1. dan1980

          Simon lives in Sydney. (Inner-west if I recall.)

          The Register is UK-based (though I think Andrew lives in SF . . . ) but with local content, in this case for Australia from Simon, Richard and Darren.

          1. ssharwood

            Dan's right. We have three local staff. I am indeed in Sydney, in the latte-sipping, Greens-voting, bicycle-riding, university-educated elitist ghetto that is the out-of-touch-with-real-Australia Inner West.

            Shan't divulge where our other AU writers reside, that's for them to cough up or keep secret.

            But I would never do a piece like this about a UK or US political issue. I'm not close enough to understand the nuances. Australian data retention policy I believe I may have a feel for.

            1. Denarius Silver badge


              Simon, has to be a ghetto then. With Sydneys roads, it would be death by 4WD or asphyxiation to attempt to leave :-) Me, I lived all over Oz except SA for some reason. Always amused at the interstate distrusts, let alone the dialects. What is striking is how the SE corner intelligentsia do not understand the fears of everyone above the 26 parallel or west of Ceduna.

              Far North Queensland is the odd place IMHO. Only there have I been called a communist and a capitalist right wing nut in the same day, just trying to vote.

        2. Tony Paulazzo

          We still have a chance to stop ours

          sounds of maniacal laughter coming from NSA headquarters...

          NSA agent 1: You gotta love those proles

          NSA agent 2: They say the funniest things. Do you think he's a terrorist?

          NSA agent 1: Well, I didn't, but we better put a close watch on him, he might be an anarchist.

          NSA agent 2: What's the difference?

          NSA agent 1: At least he's not a paedo...

          NSA agent 2: Nor is Angela Merkel, but you should see the child porn we 'found' on her computer!

          More maniacal laughter...

  8. KrisMac

    Voice or No Voice - not much has changed...

    "after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked,and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country"

    Hermann Goering - Nuremberg Trial 1945:

    I guess this guy might have been able to help define metadata for the new guard in Canberra...

  9. Morrie Wyatt

    Bad poll

    There's no "None of the above." option in any of the questions!

    1. Swarthy

      Re: Bad poll

      I was hoping for something a bit more in the "where should they store it" question. Something along the lines of "They can stick it up their arse!"

  10. Gnucklehead

    Sack the entire Attorney General's Department

    Clowns. Don't know what they want to collect, but they want to collect it anyway. Any remaining doubts that the Attorney General's Department is not running this show and just using Brandis and Abbott like trained monkeys (that aren't very good at memorising lines) have vapourised.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      They know exactly what they want, but they don't want to make it public before it's too late to do anything about it.

      Passing themselves for idiots is a brilliant scheme - you don't expect an idiot to do anything really serious. Meanwhile they can go about drawing up plans for a new panopticon without being hindered by revealing questions.

  11. poopypants

    We live in interesting times

    If only life was a little more boring.

  12. nigelc

    double dissalusionment is at it again.

    Brand_is bad.

  13. MrDamage Silver badge

    Papers Please!

    It seems we are no longer allowed to do anything without Big Brother watching over us "for our own good".

    Between Brandis and Budgie Smuggler Boofhead demanding we hand over all details of our electronic communications without warrant or complaint, and the NSW govt making it near impossible to travel on public transport anonymously, we have truly arrived at a police state.

    Time to migrate to a less oppressive regime. Iran maybe.

    1. RealFred

      Re: Papers Please!

      If you have a credit card and use it, you can be followed anywhere. You brought petrol and motel accomodation in Upper Combucta West, who was he visiting, what business did he have there. A few innocent questions and they have the information they need. See, its really easy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Papers Please!

        So silly here misplaced his drivers licence. Where I once could simply take in the bill for the new one and get it reissued to the same address. Now you've got to go in with the birth certificate, bills to prove that your actually using your idenity, and then get the photo that the facial recognition software is happy with.

        Passport is not enough :-0 and just about anything you do at some stage needs id, last time I opened a bank account, drivers license was only 1/3 of the evidence required, so F... doing that!

        Driving: photo id required at all times, penalties apply

        Flying: photo id required or no fly

        Medical: different id.

        And thats before all the electronic tattle tales of ATM's, Mobile Phones, charging histories etc...

        and this sounds like a enduser funded system that allows the feds, or any of their agents to trawl through at will and get realtime information. So that will be federal agencies, State police at least, give it a few years and every government agency down to the local dog catcher will have their special reason to be able to stalk you.

        Seriously in Australia its often polite, but it is papers please!

        AC cause I'm sick of EVERYONE knowing my every detail

      2. DiViDeD

        Re: Papers Please!

        Credit card? Oh no, cash only here.

        If you can't scratch a window with it, I don't accept it

        apologies to DA

    2. silent_count

      Re: Papers Please!

      "Time to migrate to a less oppressive regime. Iran maybe."

      Send us a postcard when you land at Imam Khomeini Airport. Be sure to try the faludeh. It's really nice.

  14. Jeff Cook

    Don't know how to go about it?

    Why don't they just get their people to work with the NSA here in the states. They've probably already got the info they're looking for.

  15. Palebushman


    Next time everyone goes to vote, make sure you vote for the calibre of person capable of the task you are voting them for. Oh! My apologies, you (the people) are not permitted to do that, only the "PARTY" has that choice!

    Me personally? I would like to vote for "Big Brother" but sadly, just like the politicians, I have absobloodylutely no idea who he is. I've tried Google and IT hasn't a clue either:-))

    But until then, in my humble opinion, people like dan1980 are the calibre of the species that SHOULD be in the leadership team to 'Advance Australia Fair' dinkum.

  16. Greyeye

    DNS != IP

    collecting only IP ?

    what if..

    you hit VPS that shares a single IP and redirect to virtual host by requested host header?

    you access from NAT ip (lot of mob, 3g, 4g, and corporate, are behind NAT)

    this just gives me another reason not to vote LNP

  17. KayKay
    Black Helicopters

    NSA is already collecting for them.

    They just need to make :"our own" s they can use information from it without giving away that it was NSA. But they don't know what NSA is collecting, that's why they can't describe it.

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