Free speech, censorship, privacy and data retention

Right to Know Week

A Right to Know? NSW Council for Civil Liberties Calls out for Freedom of Information Requests

New South Wales is celebrating ‘Right to Know Week’ soon, and to celebrate, we’re helping you get access to information that you have the right to know.

The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 gives you the right to access most information held by NSW government and public bodies.

The idea is that our democracy depends on a representative government that is transparent and accessible to its citizens.

However, some people have expressed concern that the system doesn’t work: that agencies over-charge, or don’t comply with the law. That means that the right to know isn’t as powerful in practice as it should be.

Our plan is to help you get access to information that you are legally entitled to access, and see how well the system works in the process.

So: what are you curious about? Tell us what information you’d like to know, and we’ll try to get it for you.

FYI, the Act applies to:

  • All governments agencies
  • Ministers and staff
  • Local council
  • State-owned corporations
  • Courts
  • Public authorities, like universities

So get thinking!

We’ll track our progress on getting the information for you – from the application process to the outcome and whatever happens in between.

Send in your requests to office@nswccl.org.au by 4 October 2015 and we’ll choose the five most interesting. 

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns secrecy around TPP

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has condemned the secrecy surrounding negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA), and called on governments involved in the negotiations to release the full draft texts of the deals.

CCL President Stephen Blanks stated that “the draft agreements must be released immediately so that the Australian public can engage in a comprehensive debate about their proposals."

“The current generation of free trade agreements are being negotiated with a complete lack of democratic accountability, and have largely failed to consult non-corporate stakeholders,” Blanks said.

But for leaked drafts released by Wikileaks, the Australian and global public would have no knowledge of the contents of these two agreements.

Guardian Australia revealed on Tuesday that Australian politicians have been told that they can view the TPP text, but must sign a non-disclosure agreement before doing so. DFAT public servants involved in the TPP negotiations have also been made to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Some of the leaked proposals from the TPP, particularly investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses, as well as intellectual property and environmental regulatory changes, have provoked significant controversy in Australia and other countries involved in the negotiations.

The TISA documents, leaked on Thursday, show that the agreement would involve sweeping regulatory changes in the Australian finance, health, transport, telecommunications and e-commerce sectors.

Blanks said that the wide-reaching nature of the changes in the TPP and TISA made a rigorous public debate all the more important.

“We have serious concerns about the civil liberties implications of some of the specific measures in the TPP, like the potential criminalisation of copyright infringement,” he said.

"But the drastic nature of many of the measures, regardless of one's position on them, makes a thorough and transparent debate in the parliament and civil society absolutely crucial."

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NSWCCL defends free speech and right of dissent on USyd campus

Speech delivered by NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks to Staff and Student Meeting - Defend USYD Civil Liberties at the University of Sydney on Wednesday 29 April 2015.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present.

It is pleasing to see concern about civil liberties as a central issue at the University of Sydney. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has had strong links with the University since our foundation in 1963.

NSWCCL is joining this meeting today because we are concerned that the University reacting in a disturbingly disproportionate way to the incidents which occurred at the Colonel Richard Kemp lecture on 11 March 2015. 

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CCL submission to the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 inquiry

NSWCCL has made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee arguing that Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 – a ‘de facto’ internet filter – should not be passed. In CCL’s view, website blocking is not a proportionate response to copyright infringement, and has major implications for freedom of speech.

The submission identifies a number of key issues in the Bill, including procedural fairness, the broad scope of the proposed legislation, and the potential negative implications for virtual private networks (VPNs), cloud storage providers, and whistleblowers. CCL has provided a number of recommendations addressing these concerns should the Bill continue to proceed through Parliament against CCL’s recommendation. 

Read NSWCCL's full submission here

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NSWCCL extremely concerned by SBS’s sacking of journalist Scott McIntyre

NSWCCL is extremely concerned by SBS’s decision to sack journalist Scott McIntyre for a series of tweets on Saturday critical of the ANZAC tradition. We are deeply committed to defending free speech in its varied - and sometimes offensive - forms as a central value of a progressive and enlightened society.

Equally troubling has been the reaction to the McIntyre incident from certain sections of the political establishment.  Mcintyre’s sacking should be understood as a free speech issue, and not merely as a breach of a vague social media policy in an employment contract.

We note the concerns of the MEAA regarding the increasing pressure placed on journalists to at once build a personal ‘brand’ on social media, and to suppress aspects of their private life, including political views, that their employer may find objectionable. The pressure on media professionals - indeed, many modern professionals - to limit expression of their personal views on social media as a requirement of their employment amounts to a demand for self-censorship that should be roundly rejected.

We are also concerned that, in the modern age, corporate entities can and do restrict free speech as much as governments.

Today's threats to freedom of speech can be nuanced and subtle.  Corporations can be at the root of these threats: in the workplace, on the internet, and in public spaces.

Finally, we note, and are disappointed by, the role of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the incident. Even if Turnbull, as he claims, merely alerted SBS to the tweets, his involvement was highly inappropriate, and would have sent a clear message of disapproval to SBS management. It should be seen straightforwardly as an attempt by a federal government minister to interfere with the independence of a public broadcaster, and gag and punish the speech of a member of the public. We are sure that Turnbull’s intervention would have been of great concern to John Stuart Mill, the author of the classic work on free speech, On Liberty.

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CCls call for repeal of 'chilling' ASIO s35P law

The combined councils for civil liberties across Australia (New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australia Council for Civil Liberties, Australian Council for Civil Liberties) have made a joint submission to the Acting Independent National Security Legislation Monitor's (INSLM's) inquiry into the impact on journalists of the operation of section 35P of the ASIO Act 1979, which contains two offences that criminalise disclosures of information relating to a ‘special intelligence operation’. 

The main civil liberties issues at stake in relation to the s35P are freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which should never be curtailed in democracy.

While understanding the justification of security and intelligence services’ powers for the protection of national security, the combined CCLs have raised serious concerns over the new national security and counter-terrorism legislation which incorporates a number of new extraordinary provisions.

CCLs raise the cumulative impact of the extended legislation on the work of journalists. Even though a warrant is now required for access to a journalist’s metadata, the CCLs condemn the very real possibility of access to this data which can readily reveal the identity of a source, without informing the journalist his metadata is being released to ASIO.

The CCLs urge the Government to protect a free and robust press in Australia by repealing the concept of the SIO regime and the s35P offences considered as unnecessary, draconian and dangerous for Australia’s democratic well-being.

Read the submission

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Letter to ALP members and senators on the Data Retention Bill

NSW Council for Civil Liberties recently wrote to all ALP members and all senators urging that the Data Retention Bill be delayed until key issues in the bill are resolved. 

Click here to read the full letter sent to all ALP members and Senators on 15 March.

Click here to read the full letter sent to all Senators on 24 March

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TAKE ACTION: Imminent passage of mass data retention and surveillance in Australia

Next week the Parliament of Australia will debate the highly contentious and dangerous data retention bill (Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014).  This bill, if passed, will mandate the collection and retention for two years of telecommunications data on all citizens – suspect and non-suspect alike –  for subsequent access and analysis by intelligence and security agencies, police and other agencies.

No warrant will be necessary to access this data.  

If this bill becomes law, Australia will have one of the most extensive and intrusive data collection and surveillance regimes in the democratic world. 

NSW Council for Civil Liberties has written to all Labor MPs and Senators. We need you to do this too

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CITIZENFOUR screening: decision making on mandatory data retention and surveillance in Australia

MEDIA RELEASE

Laura Poitras' gripping documentary CITIZENFOUR will be screened in Parliament House tonight, Monday 9 February, following on from its success in winning a BAFTA overnight. The combined civil liberties councils across Australia (NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australian Council for Civil Liberties, and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties) and Electronic Frontiers Australia are hosting the screening in Parliament for interested politicians and staffers. The documentary provides a powerful insight into the astonishing dimensions and significance of metadata collection and analysis, and is offered as a contribution to the debate on the contentious data retention bill. 

The screening has been crowdfunded by hundreds of individual donors across Australia. 

Read the full press release here

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Mass data retention - the fight is on

Last year civil liberties and human rights groups resisted, with limited success, the worst elements of the veritable tsunami of new counter-terrorism laws the Abbot Government brought in swift succession to the Parliament.  Now we are fast approaching a decision point in the highly significant and contentious debate as to whether the Australian Parliament will legislate the mandatory collection and retention of mass telecommunications data for the bulk of the population to enable retrospective access by authorities.

Help us fight mass data retention - donate to the CITIZENFOUR screening and send a message to our politicians

It would be a major negative step for a democracy. It will be a major intrusion every citizen’s right to privacy - including those not suspected of any unlawful activity. This will have major flow-on implications for other freedoms and democratic values. In particular, it will undermine a robust and free press and constrain legitimate whistle-blowers by removing any confidentiality from all phone and internet communications.  

The combined CCLS consider it to be a step too far. We strongly oppose the policy concept and urge the Parliament to reject it. 

 

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