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How much is too much?

In a world where we rely on the internet on a daily basis, it is inevitable that cybercrime is on the rise. Liana Neri asks if the implications of living in an open press society are to blame.

The digital revolution is well and truly upon us, influencing the patterns of our daily lives. Everything from booking a table at your favourite restaurant to paying your bills can be done online at the simple click of a button.

But in the words of Peter Parker, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

Jay Rosen, at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Sunday, felt ‘establishing lines of communication can seem like a great thing, but when turned around, they can actually terrorise.’

In an attempt to stop the growing threat of cybercrime, the House of Representatives passed the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment last Tuesday.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday that the new legislation ‘will enable agencies to request the preservation of communications that carriers store, such as SMS messages, and that can be accessed only under a warrant.’

‘This bill will allow law enforcement agencies to request a service provider not to destroy information about suspected criminal activity while a warrant is sought.’

There is mounting speculation on whether the legislation will intervene with the privacy of individuals.

In a letter to Senator Catryna Bilyk Chair of Parliamentary Cyber Safety Committee, the Australian Privacy Foundation wrote, ‘despite its claimed purpose, the Bill goes well beyond what is necessary in order to accede to the Convention, and the extensions are highly privacy-abusive.’

However, McClelland defends the Bill; ‘to suggest that this implies new incursions on people’s privacy is wrong.’

‘Providers already retain data under strict guidelines. It must be managed consistent with the National Privacy Principles in the Privacy Act including a requirement for the information to be managed securely…Australia must modernise its laws and stay up to date with evolving cyber technology.’

Indeed McClelland is right, but is this amendment in the name of national security, adding yet another worry for concerned net surfers?

According to Rosen, open societies convey so much information online, we are faced with ‘secrecy by complexity – when things remain secret or unknown not because they are hidden, but because they are so complicated.’

Australians have tremendous access to information in an open press society. So much according to Rosen that ‘more information may reduce legitimacy. When we know more, it’s harder for our illusions to remain.’

Bombarding people with information in a democratic society can cause  as many complications as the lack of information does in a country where the media is heavily censored.

After ethnic riots in China in 2009, the internet and international calling services were cut off for six months. Social media sites Twitter, Flickr and Youtube were blocked,  and still remain off-limits.

Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of Danwei, explained at the Melbourne Writers Festival that ‘in China there is not only no open information officer, there is in fact probably tens of thousands of people dedicated to ensuring the opposite.’

It’s not unusual for Chinese Government bodies to act swiftly against anyone who questions their authority (see the suspension of CCTV news anchor Bai Yansong after questioning government decisions during the July 23rd Wenzhou train crash).

‘In China there isn’t information overload. There are a lot of politically sensitive areas’, says Goldkorn. Maybe similar restrictions are what it will take to lower the risk of cybercrime. 

Let’s weigh up the options. On one hand, not enough internet freedom is restricting and dictatorial. On the other, too much internet freedom is overwhelming, and may lead to an increase in cybercrime and online privacy issues.

Can there ever just be a perfect balance?

Liana Neri is a final-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is part of upstart’s editorial team. You can follow her on Twitter: @liana_neri

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