Thanks for the data retention, tech sector

World's lamest lobby chalks up another win

Politicians laugh at cost arguments

An excessive focus on cost arguments was bound to fail, because the one thing politicians know is that any industry that complains about the cost of a policy is exaggerating.

That was certainly the case in 1999, when the Howard government (under the “world's biggest Luddite” Senator Richard Alston) implemented changes to the Broadcasting Services Act.

That legislation, under which the ACMA maintains a list of content which cannot be hosted in Australia, was attacked on cost grounds, with dire predictions that its cost would run into the hundreds of millions (this author will confess to reporting such factoids in a previous life).

If a politician shrugs off such numbers, its merely experience: “You seemed to survive OK last time around,” a communications minister might reasonably say.

Someone like me, who's less apt to believe predictions of an industry apocalypse, might also observe: “Politicians don't care if their policy costs you money. Didn't you learn that last time?”

Consistency: we've heard of it

The tech sector also undermined its position in the data retention debate by spending years hyping security threats and promising cyber-war if government didn't queue up to help them sell their products.

Ever since 9/11, the industry has counted every ICMP ping as an attack, sold the “cyber Pearl Harbour” line at every opportunity and demanded cyber-strategies from any politician and parliament that would listen.

From that point of view, the data retention legislation is merely one chicken that bothered making the return trip: after all, it's supposed to help combat cyber-terrorism, among other things, as MP Warren Entsch helpfully explains.

The sector wanted to create an atmosphere that would help it sell product. It's therefore a pity that the same atmosphere helped give us the data retention regime.

With more than a decade standing next to the security apparatus, the IT industry is only now realising that its genie isn't listening to its commands.

We can sell you the products you need to protect your privacy!” is an answer that's too lame and too late.

Finally, it's worth saying that a sudden wish to take Australian consumers under the US wing rings hollow from an industry that cheerfully discriminates against buyers with its cost structures (incidentally harming local channels, who are blamed for the costs and undercut by overseas channels).

A US company that inexplicably does most of its business in Ireland-via-Singapore might likewise be thought to be using a new-found concern for Australians as a cover for its own interests.

To the extent that the IT industry tried to prevent data retention, it failed utterly.

That should spark some soul-searching, but it won't. Attention spans are far too short. I have an Uber arriving in about five minutes and I want to post the trip on Periscope, so... ®

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