Issues Magazine


By By Guy Nolch

Editor and Publisher

An overview of what's in this edition of Issues.

When I first read Big Brother in the 1980s it seemed impossible that surveillance could ever be as pervasive as George Orwell’s novel about government surveillance in 1984. Now we see CCTV in shops and around ATMs, and most people have a smartphone capable of taking sharp photos and even videos that can be uploaded and viewed online almost anywhere in the world.

Meanwhile our purchasing decisions and even our online “window shopping” can be tracked and collated so that targeted advertising can be directed at us.

Want to take a sick day from work when you’re not really sick? In the past you could fake a cough when calling your boss, but nowadays you’d better not be on the beach or at the snow when she checks in with you via a Skype video call or sees the photos you’ve just posed to Instagram.

And when she sacks you, you’d better clean up your social media profile as best you can because your potential next employer will be checking your online activities to see if you’re a good fit for the company. Have you connected with industry leaders on LinkedIn or does your Twitter timeline show you up as an online troll who has also joined some undesirable Facebook groups?

This edition of Issues looks at how extensively we are tracked by both governments and businesses, from the websites we visit and the people we connect with via social media to “old school” surveillance of our physical movements using “new school” technologies such as remotely piloted aircraft, tracking of our mobile phone’s movements and logging of the calls we make.

The edition begins with a sobering review of online security by Robert Merkel (p.5), who explains why gaping security holes in the software programs that enable us to navigate the internet were undetected for decades.

Jake Goldenfein (p.8) continues the theme by examining the privacy threats arising from the storage of ever-increasing amounts of data with private companies in “the cloud”.

New Australian legislation requiring internet service providers to retain their customers’ “metadata” has been a widely discussed privacy issue this year. Philip Branch (p.10) explains what metadata is, what information the government intends to keep and how this information can be used.

Keiran Hardy (p.14) continues the theme of government surveillance by examining new powers being considered for Australia’s intelligence agencies, while Tom Chothia (p.16) summarises what Edward Snowden’s leaks have revealed about how government spy agencies are intercepting our online communications.

While governments are capturing as much data as they can about us for security reasons, private companies are doing the same in a practice that has become known as “Big Data”. Martin Hirst (p.19) explains how the data we generate is leading to a “surveillance economy” in which businesses build data profiles that enable them to target their advertising at people more effectively, while Benjamin Shiller (p.22) explains how your online purchasing decisions will enable merchants to alter their prices to extract the maximum value from individual customers.

While many are suspicious of Big Data, Bruce Arnold (p.24) says that “being a data profile has advantages” and suggests “changing the law so that we are respected as people rather than mere digits in a public or private sector database”. Such sentiments are growing in importance in the emerging “sensor society” of always-on sensing devices described by Mark Burdon (p.33).

While privacy is a growing issue for our digital selves, Martin Hirst (p.27) chronicles how our identities in the physical world are at an increasing risk of privacy breaches. Recent examples are the “hacking” of the voicemail messages of public figures by British journalists, and the widespread sharing of nude photographs stolen from their “cloud” accounts of celebrities.

If all this makes you want to go “off the grid”, Samuel Lymn (p.31) list some online tools to help you cover your tracks online. Good luck!

While you might be able to hide some of your online activity, Rick Sarre (p.40) explains that it’s only going to get harder to escape the proliferation of cameras as remotely piloted aircraft – better known as drones – become more common in our skies, while Katina Michael (p.37) warns of an age of “uberveillance” as wearable devices like Google Glass become more common.

I’d like to close this editorial by acknowledging the contribution of Sally Woollett as Editor of the previous 30 editions of Issues. Thanks Sal!