Ever since Australia’s National Get a VPN Day, there has been significant scrutiny, both inside and outside the country, of the impact of their new Data Retention laws.
As readers, may recall, back in 2015, Australia’s Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill passed into law. This legislation required all ISPs and telecoms companies in Australia to retain connection data about their users.
There was a grace period to allow companies to put in place the processes needed to carry out this requirement, and the full law came into force earlier this year. At the time, there were significant concerns that this meant that the details of every single action undertaken online were being stored.
100% increase in VPN usage
This ‘hysteria’ led to a lot of people rushing to sign up with VPN services to protect their online privacy. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of National Get a VPN Day, there was a 100% increase in the use of VPNs in Australia.
As with many other countries that have passed similar laws, the situation in Australia is a little more nuanced. The Government is at pains to stress that they are not collecting the content of internet connections, something we are happy to clarify for our readers.
What they are recording is details of each internet connection that an individual user makes. That is the subscriber name, service delivery address, date & time and duration, and the IP address assigned. This type of information is commonly defined in the media as ‘metadata’.
Now, retaining metadata might sound relatively innocent, but actually, the Government can deduce a lot about your online habits from such data and many privacy advocates are as concerned about metadata collection as they are communications contents.
VPN compliance and effectiveness
The role of a VPN is this collection is a little less clear. ISPs can still see that you are making an internet connection when you are using a VPN. They know the IP Address they have assigned you and that the connection is being used, so this data is still being collected.
What they are not able to see is the contents of your online data (because a VPN encrypts this) or where it is going (because they only see as far as the VPN server).
Some have argued that a VPN, therefore, makes no difference to the data being collected by ISPs in Australia. But this makes the case of Australian VPN provider Wangle especially curious.
As we have reported before, the question of whether VPNs have to retain user data to comply with the new data retention laws is open to debate.
Wangle claims to be the first Australian VPN to be fully compliant with the new law and as such retain metadata about all of their users. This has gained them a fair bit of publicity but also attracted ridicule from those who question why anyone would use a VPN which retains customer data.
Whichever position you take on that argument, there is no denying the fact that the increase in VPN usage in Australia can only be a good thing. VPNs protect user security and privacy and in the modern age of threats from hackers and governments around the world snooping into our online activity, they are an increasingly essential tool.
Australians would still be well advised to sign up for a premium VPN service, such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN which offers a reliable and secure service with absolutely no user logs being retained.
Even if you are of a view that if the Australian laws do not snoop on your online content, they are nothing to worry about, we can always look to what the Edward Snowden revelations showed us that Governments and Intelligence Agencies are really collecting behind closed doors, whether it is legislated for or not.