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Malcolm Turnbull's Sky News interview basically renders the metadata retention laws useless

David Speers and Malcolm Turnbull swap tips on avoiding metadata. Source: Screenshot.

After several months of the Abbott Government telling Australians how important the metadata laws are to catch paedophiles and terrorists, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull basically demolished the Coalition’s reasoning during an interview with David Speers last night.

Speers, you may remember, elicited the remarkable and contradictory “it wouldn’t extend to web surfing” explanation of metadata from Attorney-General George Brandis last August.

Last night, chatting to Turnbull, who uses self-destructing messaging app Wickr for confidential conversations, Speers asked about protection for whistleblowers. Turnbull offered a how-to guide that will also come in handy for everyone else the Government supposedly wants to catch using metadata, a $400 million pile of details about who you call, text and email, as well as what you’ve looked at on the internet during the past two years.

Turnbull said there were safeguards for whistleblowers, “but there’s some complexity and I guess uncertainty there”.

He then went on to list some of the “gazillion” ways you can avoid leaving a metadata trail with your telco, saying:

“If you have a device, you know, a phone or a smartphone, and if I call you through the mobile phone network there will be a record. Say my phone’s with Telstra, there’ll be a record with Telstra that I’ve called your number.”

If on the other hand I communicate with you via Skype for a voice call or Viber, send you a message on WhatsApp or Wickr or Threema or Signal or Telegrammer — there’s a gazillion of them — or indeed if you make a FaceTime call, then all that the telco can see, insofar as it can see anything, is that my device has had a connection with the Skype server or the WhatsApp server; it doesn’t see anything happening with you.”

But, said Speers, then this works for terrorists and child sex offenders too: “There are ways to get around it.”

Here’s what Turnbull said:

“There are always ways for people to get around things, but of course a lot of people don’t, and that’s why I’ve always said the data retention laws, the use of metadata, is not a silver bullet. It’s not a 100% guarantee. It is one tool in many tools.”

Greens senator Scott Ludlam has also been offering tips on ways to get around the Government’s plans. They’re not illegal, just loopholes it seems the government can’t close down in a globally connected world.

The Senate is debating the metadata laws today and they are expected to pass with support from Labor.

So here are the Communication Minister’s handy tips on how to avoid leaving a metadata trail in the Sky News interview:

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