Apple co-founder criticises data retention, wants privacy back the way it Woz

Tech's elder statesmen Steve Wozniak says Australia is following the "twisted" path of the United States, enacting an "unethical" data retention scheme that intrudes on a person's right to privacy.

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Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has criticised Australia's data retention scheme for being "unethical." Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Technology pioneer Steve Wozniak has fired a missive at Australia's data retention scheme, saying it is "unethical" and criticising the government for "snooping" into the lives of all Australians in order to apprehend criminals and terrorists.

The co-founder of Apple made the comments at the World Business Forum in Sydney yesterday, joining a line-up of speakers including former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke to discuss the future of global business.

While mandatory data retention is now official in Australia, after the Federal Government passed laws requiring telecommunications service providers to retain customer metadata for two years, Wozniak slammed the regime saying that Australia risks following the "twisted" path seen in the United States.

"Australia has gone the same way as the United States...they can monitor everything you do and I'm against that," he said.

"When I was brought up, our constitution gave us a place called a home and your home could not be violated without court orders, warrants. You know, they had to really suspect something to come into your home. It was your private area. And to me, I think my communication with my friends should be part of my private area that I own.

"That's been twisted in the United States but Australia's following suit in exactly the same ways."

Wozniak argued that the scheme was "unethical in the sense that there's secrecy, there's peeping," comparing the Government to a prying neighbour using a secret camera to film a person's house -- "Friends don't do that," he said.

However, he also questioned how effective mandatory data retention would be in achieving its stated aims of apprehending or preventing the actions of terrorists and criminals.

"I would say to the Australian Government, there are a lot of examples that it hasn't been fruitful in uncovering terrorists, which is what it's proclaimed to be all about," he said.

"I don't think you should be snooping into my private life on the threat that 'Oh, just to see if you might be a terrorist or had a communication with a terrorist'...I think there's other ways to fight that criminal battle."

"Woz," as he is also known, is not the first high-profile figure from the tech world to speak out against Australia's new data retention scheme.

Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who himself was responsible for leaking documents related to government surveillance undertaken by the NSA, said the scheme was a form of "pre-criminal investigation."

Speaking at a conference in Melbourne earlier this month, Snowden said the Australian Government was mandating the collection of data that it would be able to share with international agencies without court oversight, meaning that for all Australians, "regardless of whether or not you're doing anything wrong, you are being watched."