It should go without saying that the pond is a team player.
You name the team, we're ready to go.
Unless the team leader happens to be a luddite.
The truth is, Abbott should never be let out to talk about digital matters. But then neither should George Brandis. And come to think of it, big Mal stumbles as much as he toddles ...
The hapless PM's website had to carry a transcript of this exchange on yesterday's AM:
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Ok, you’re obviously aware that there’s a lot of criticism about this from civil liberties groups and the like. Why do Australia’s intelligence agencies need even more power to invade our privacy?
PRIME MINISTER: Well they’re not invading privacy. The metadata that we’re talking about is information which is already kept, and all we’re saying is that the telecommunications providers should continue to keep this organisation. An interesting, and I think instructive, metaphor is that the metadata is the material on the front of the envelope and the contents of the letter will remain private. All we want is for the telecommunications companies to continue to keep the person sending the information, the person to whom the information is being sent, the time it was sent and the place it was sent from. It’s, as it were, it’s the information on the front of the envelope which is currently kept, has been kept, we want it to continue to be kept; that’s what we’re proposing. We’re not proposing anything new, we’re just saying that the information that is currently kept by the telecommunications providers should continue to be kept, because all of the expert advice from our counter-terrorist agencies is that this is absolutely critical, not just in the fight against terrorism, but in crime fighting more generally.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Is it going to include our internet search histories?
PRIME MINISTER: Well my understanding is that if it’s generated by you, it’s content and that won’t be kept. If it’s generated by the service providers, that’s metadata and that will be kept. (here)
An interesting and instructive metaphor? That's the one the minders thought Abbott and Brandis could handle. Talk about mindless optimism ...
The result was pure, meaningless gibberish from Abbott, the envelope metaphor and then the search history bit, and that was just the start of it all.
Somehow it came up again on last night's 7.30, here:
SABRA LANE: The Prime Minister caused confusion this morning when he suggested internet browsing history would also be captured.
TONY ABBOTT: It's not the content of the letter, it's what's on the envelope, if I might use a metaphor that I think most Australians would understand. It's not what you're doing on the internet, it's the sites you're visiting. It's not the content, it's just where you've been, so to speak.
SABRA LANE: The Prime Minister's office later clarified web browsing history is not metadata and would need a warrant...
Uh huh. Can we take a rain check on that one, and the painful way that Abbott stumbles over the envelope and produces a deep paper cut?
SABRA LANE: ...Internet service providers collect the information already, but don't store it for long and they're resisting this push. The Prime Minister says his plan shouldn't involve more cost for the companies, however, iiNet says it would have to build extra storage to cope requiring more power and that it would pass on the cost to customers - about $130 extra a year. It's labelled it a new surveillance tax.
CHRIS ALTHAUS, AUST. MOBILE TELECOMMUNICATIONS ASSOC.: This is an enormous amount of data. It would make looking for a needle in a haystack seem like a picnic. So much data will be collected, the ability to interrogate that data is a huge challenge, and once again, depends very much on the actual data set that we are required to keep.
SABRA LANE: Chris Althaus is the CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association. Members include mobile phone companies and those offering mobile internet browsing services. He says the plan poses a huge challenge.
CHRIS ALTHAUS: $500, perhaps - $500 million to set up and then hundreds of millions of dollars to operate this sort of system. The volumes of data involved here are huge and increasing exponentially over time.
Never mind the needle in the haystack, or the cost, why is the confusion and the chaos and the elephantine attempt at a song sheet, about envelopes and browsing, so important?
Well it shouldn't take much of a clue - even for a PM digital dummy - to realise that there are other dummies out there, and all this talk of search histories is the sort of stuff to spread the fear wider.
Yes you know the song (in fact you can singalong on YouTube here):
Kate Monster: Finally, I get to teach a whole lesson all by myself. And I'm gonna teach something relevant, something modern - the Internet! The Internet is really really great ..
Trekkie Monster: For porn!
Kate: I've got a fast connection so I don't have to wait.
Trekkie: For porn!
Kate: What? There's always some new site.
Trekkie: For porn!
Kate: I browse all day and night.
Trekkie: For porn! Kate: It's like I'm surfing at the speed of light... Trekkie: For porn! Kate: Trekkie! Trekkie: The Internet is for porn!
Trekkie: The Internet is for porn!
Kate: What are you doing!?
Trekkie: Why you think the net was born? Porn! Porn! Porn!
And so on. And that's before we get on to other uses, which were canvassed by George Brandis, such as using it to combat crime and murder and sex rings, before remembering he was supposed to say that at heart it was going to be a counter-terrorism measure, and let's not talk abut warrants.
You see, if there's one thing people like to do in their spare time, it's browse, take a walk on the wild side. And if there's one thing likely to get them into a frenzy, it's the notion that the government is tracking and accessing information about their wayward inclinations. It's bad enough to think of the amount of data already out there in private hands, sloshing around in the likes of Google and facebook ... did anyone mention VPNs?
What's worse is that Abbott, trained to parrot this sort of stuff by his handlers, can't even parrot in the style of the parrots shrieking in delight at the cherry blossoms now blossoming outside in the winter light. (Ah the parrots, how sweet the real ones are, how much time can be wasted watching them get drunk on the sweet stuff).
And it's not just Abbott. They let Brandis out of the cage too:
Okay that's just the tweets - the pond loved the understated style - and since they're screen caps, here's the link to the Sky News interview. It is a guaranteed hoot, as Brandis too attempts to recite the song sheet and go through the whole letter/envelope routine like a gormless idiot.
It's all you could hope for from a lawyer still stuck in his world of taxpayer-provided books and bookcases, and as a bonus you can get more links at George Brandis in 'car crash' interview over controversial data retention regime (forced video at end of link).
Web address, web data, you say potato, I say tomato. It's impossible to conjure up the pure undiluted confusion and idiocy. A timeless classic. Pure comedy gold.
And after all that blather, it's time to collect that rain check, because here's the headline arising:
George Brandis has conceded the government will require telecommunications companies to retain for two years records of all websites visited by their customers. Guardian Australia can reveal the controversial plan caused angry scenes in cabinet on Tuesday.
After a day of mixed messages about exactly what data the government wanted to be retained, the attorney general also revealed to Sky News the government was “in discussion” with telcos about how its plan would treat Skype or services like Facetime and Google chat.
Cabinet ministers learned the national security committee had decided to proceed with the data retention plan from Tuesday morning’s newspapers, and Guardian Australia can reveal it caused a heated discussion in cabinet that morning, as the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, became exasperated and angry at the lack of factual information about how it would work in practice.
In an interview on Sky that appeared to contradict earlier government statements and was quickly distributed by the Labor opposition, Brandis was asked whether websites visited by an internet user would be part of the data retained. He replied that it “wouldn’t extend to, for example, web surfing so what people are viewing on the internet is not going to be caught” but added “what will be caught is the web address they communicate to”.
“The web address is part of the metadata … What the security agencies want to know is the electronic address of the websites … every website has an electronic address, when a connection is made between one computer terminal and a web address, that fact and the time of the connection and duration of the connection is what we mean by metadata in that context.
And so on.
Who knows what's intended? Who knows when Abbott and Brandis will get their song sheets and their stories and their lyrics and their envelopes all lined up?
Could it get any worse?
Well actually there's one thing worse. Abbott's folly means that the pond is totally onside with Chris Berg and the IPA, and Berg scribbling Security Bill Widens Government Surveillance Powers (beware the hapless possums and their DDoS notice)
How rare and exotic is that? The pond and the IPA at one!
The point Berg makes is that the United States, which has pioneered data gathering and crunching, still doesn't have a clue and is eternally surprised when a fresh plot pops up under their noses - despite having spent way more squillions, than the squillions Abbott proposes to spend, and the long absent lord knows, those costs will be boggling enough.
And that's the problem. In the end the amount of data becomes huge, its storage and crunching expensive, and unless you know what you're looking for, how to interrogate the data, which questions to ask, it becomes reams of gibberish a bit like the gibberish Abbott speaks. All ostensibly because there might be under a hundred radicalised characters wandering about.
Yes, you could track them all day and night, and do it more cheaply and effectively by ordinary means, but instead, it's off to crunch an enormous amount of data - and as the terrorists slip beneath the radar, ordinary folk have to rely on a dinkum down under Edward Snowden to tell them what's being done to them in their name. Because the best data still comes from the direct illegal tap, the direct tracking ...
Now it's easy enough to know why security folk want it, demand it, do it. It's called hammer in search of a nail, and empire building. You need bigger budgets, you need more staff, and that means more tidily paid chiefs to supervise the serfs, and they can all sit around crunching the data. Just like they did in the United States, when they had lots of information about 9/11 planning, and they just didn't know what to do with it or about it, until it was too late.
It's what you do when the procedure - IT, computers, the Internet - is familiar, whereas trying to get an agent speaking the relevant exotic language, knowing the culture, and slipping unnoticed into a hotbed of radicalism is just too tricky and hard.
This is going to haunt Abbott.
Yesterday confirmed that the government is simply incapable of selling its policies, and this is now going to be an ongoing debacle.
In one fell swoop, Abbott and Brandis managed to alienate geeks, the IPA, anyone concerned about privacy, anyone wanting to lather up a fuss about big brother government and intrusive surveillance, paranoids who are in possession of the facts, and just about anyone who hops on the computer or the phone for a little private surfing.
It's compounded by all the indications Abbott doesn't have the first clue what he's talking about, and in a contest of luddites, of dumb and dumber, Brandis is even dumber. No wonder big Mal is agitated, no wonder he's taken a step back and away from the two bunnies attempting to sell this bunch of tainted spy goods ...
Meanwhile, the Labor party tries to sound like an opposition on the matter, but they were peddling this snake oil back when they were in government, and even worse they were peddling Stephen Conroy's great big internet filter.
The long absent lord help the country but why not sing along...
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space
'Cause there's bugger all down here in Abbott,
Brandis, their minders, the Liberal party, the Labor party,
The security apparatus, federal government IT and intertubes policies,
And, more generally speaking, earth ...
Even the reptiles could tell yesterday had been a bad hair day, so this morning they've done what they can with the kool aid to hand:
Brandis is going to put it back on track? Now there's a reliable joke. He was the one that went off the tracks in the first place with the little train that couldn't. And somehow this is an EXCLUSIVE?
Oh yes, it's going to be an ongoing bundle of laughs, and it isn't an exclusive, because any idiot can play.
Now don't even mention the adults being in charge, climate science, methane in the Arctic, or the current state of coal prices, puh-lease ...
(Below: yes, the pond's a team player. Any team you like).
Oh wait, perhaps you were expecting a Team America joke?
Officer, take down those ISP details at once. There's little doubt visitors to loon pond are in search of filthy, perverted porn ... oh yes, we've got them on a list, a long, long federal government list ...
Big George and Uncle Tony know what you've been doing, oh yes they do ...