We are a technologically dependent society. Perhaps we weren’t 10 years ago, but we sure as hell are now. How many of us can confidently say that they can function a few hours away from all technology? Is that even possible in our day? It seems our entire lives are being consumed by the digital world – but how safe are we within that world? Melbourne Knowledge Week are looking to answer that very question with a panel called Modern Confidential: Digital Privacy Today.

I don’t think anyone truly believes that the internet is a completely safe place. If we can download copyrighted content with a few clicks and access information that would otherwise be unreachable – who’s to say that anything is protected?

We see the breach of internet privacy constantly, although we may not immediately identify it as such. We are still susceptible to emails that dance between being annoying and borderline dangerous. I still clear anywhere between 5-10 suspicious ‘Internet security’ emails from my university inbox every day. I’d like to believe that we’ve grown wiser as a society and no longer feel tempted to click on strange links.

From visiting sketchy sites to signing up to various email newsletters, we are constantly throwing our private information into the mass black-hole that is the internet. We don’t really read the terms and conditions, and let’s be honest – how often do we actually scan our devices for malware and viruses?

That’s not to say that we should feel unsafe having an online presence – it’s just the fact of the matter that, no, nothing is truly protected online.

Australia’s new data retention laws have sparked concern about internet privacy and breach of personal information. The new laws will allow the government to access certain information from Internet Service Providers and make ISP’s legally obligated to keep that information for two years.

What most people don’t realise is that the information being kept doesn’t have much to do with privacy at all. The ‘data’ being kept by your ISP is nothing new. It tracks the destination of a communication”; when and how long you’ve been online for, who and when you’ve called or messaged but nothing to indicate content of your private web presence. This isn’t all that different to your telecommunications provider keeping a record of calls you’ve made for your bill. The only time you should be concerned about this is if you’re browsing an illegal website that the police are doing an undercover raid on – only then will they be able to track your IP address and request the information connected to it by the ISP. It’s a great way to counter child pornography and track suspicious behaviour.

For internet providers, the “destination of a communication” (which can be argued to mean “the websites you visit” or “people to whom you send messages”) is strictly not required to be monitored or retained. If an internet provider does choose to retain this information, that is their own prerogative, and the government would require a warrant to access that kind of information (again, this is if it was even being stored in the first place, as it is outside of this legislation)” – Lance McDonald

Melbourne Knowledge Week will be hosting Modern Confidential: Digital Privacy Today –  a panel discussion to unpack the question “Is digital privacy an oxymoron?”. Joining the conversation will be Vanessa Teague (Computing and Information Systems researcher), Rachael Falk (tech security strategist) and Josh Bornstein (Employment and industrial relations lawyer).

Presented in partnership with Liberty Victoria, Melbourne Knowledge Week will run from May 1 – 7.