NSWCCL News

Australia's mass data retention regime under review

The PJCIS is reviewing the legislation that established the excessive mandatory data retention regime in 2015.

This review is happening at a timely moment as the Australian community ponders the implications of the extraordinary AFP raids on the ABC and a News Limited journalist a few weeks ago. We were not surprised at the AFP raids on the ABC and other journalists. These intimidatory raids are an inevitable consequence of  Australia's large expanding suite of surveillance and secrecy laws.

The mass  data collection regime which is retained to allow access by intelligence and police officers is an important element of these laws and in itself poses a clear and major threat to journalists and whistle-blowers.

Not surprisingly it was hugely controversial legislation and generated widespread, vehement opposition from civil liberties/human rights groups, journalists and media organisations, privacy and IT groups and many others.

NSWCCL joined with other councils for civil liberties to oppose the Bill. We put in a Joint CCLs submission to the PJCIS and when  it recommended an amended version of the Bill be passed by Parliament, we wrote to all Senators – as the last chance forum -  urging them to abandon this indiscriminate  and excessive collection of all Australian residents data and replace it with a less intrusive regime which targets only suspects.

While we failed to block the passage of the legislation, some concessions were achieved – including a ‘fix’ to protect journalists through a special Journalist Information Warrant and a review of the regime after three years.  This is the review year.

Joint CCLs current position  

We maintain our strong opposition to the legislation as disproportionate and incompatible with a healthy democracy. In our new submission we have again argued it should be repealed or significantly amended.

We are hopeful that some improvements to the legislation will result from this review, especially  much needed safeguards - such as warrant approval for access to the retained telecommunications data. It is not likely that the PJCIS will recommend, or the Government approve repeal of the legislation.

The CCLs argue that the mandatory data retention regime is but one element of many excessive provisions in Australia’s uniquely large body of national security and counter-terrorism legislation. It is crucial for there to be a  review of the cumulative chilling and intimidatory impact of the Government's expanded surveillance powers and secrecy offences relating to Government activity.  

Next steps

In reaction to public and media outrage the Government has now established a separate inquiry into the ‘impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press’ to be conducted by the PJCIS.

We will be making a submission to this review – and arguing that that the PJCIS is not the appropriate Committee to conduct this inquiry as it has supported all the surveillance and secrecy legislation causing the problem.

 

 CCLs submission to PJCIS data retention regime 2019 

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Awards for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism

New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties is proud to announce two new awards for excellence in civil liberties journalism for an article or series of articles, or a radio, television or podcast presentation, promoting civil liberties. The two awards will be:

  • for young journalists under the age of 30 on 2 August, 2019, and
  • in the open category.
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Regulation of poppers has discriminatory effect on gay community

28 June 2019

Poppers, also known as amyl nitrite, are inhalants. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, they cause a high for about 2-3 minutes. They are also used to “enhance sexual experience”. Specifically, they are muscle relaxants, commonly used by gay men to facilitate anal sex. One study found that poppers were used among gay and bisexual men at a rate of 32 per cent in the last six months. Another study found that two thirds of gay and bisexual men had used it in their lifetimes.

In September last year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), responsible for regulating drugs and medicine, released an interim report. The report proposed criminalising poppers, classifying alkyl nitrites as Schedule 9 under the Poisons Standard. This would make them the same sort of drug as heroin and cannabis.  Possession of poppers could mean 12 months in jail, or a fine of $2200 under this proposal.

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns unjust detention of innocent people, urges return to 2013 bail law reforms

17 June 2019

Statistics released by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics (BOCSAR) have shown a significant increase since 2014 in the number of people refused bail, and then later found innocent. There has been an increase of 30 per cent in people denied bail, held in prison, and then later being acquitted.  In 2018, this meant 204 people, including 21 children.

Since 2014, there has been a significant increase in the number of prisoners held on remand, from a quarter of prisoners in 2012, to a third in 2018. Some adults had to wait over 500 days. The children had to wait an average of 124 days last year.

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Ita Buttrose comes out fighting for ABC independence and public's right to know

NSWCCL has reproduced below the full statement made today by the Chair of the ABC in defence of the independent public broadcaster in response to the intimidating raids by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC and a News Corporation journalist.

We do so because of the profound threat to a free press, to legitimate whistle blowers and to the public's right to know posed by these extraordinary raids. 

We do so also because we are greatly relieved that the independent broadcaster has a chair who appears to understand the significance of 'independent' in this context. 

 

ABC Chair Ita Buttrose's statement in full

On behalf of the ABC, I have registered with the Federal Government my grave concern over this week's raid by the federal police on the national broadcaster.

An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy.

It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives.

Observance of this basic tenet of the community's right to know has driven my involvement in public life and my career in journalism for almost five decades.

The raid is unprecedented — both to the ABC and to me.

In a frank conversation with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, yesterday, I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly designed to intimidate.

It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week's events: raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account.

I also asked for assurances that the ABC not be subject to future raids of this sort. Mr Fletcher declined to provide such assurances, while noting the "substantial concern" registered by the Corporation.

There has been much reference in recent days to the need to observe the rule of law.

While there are legitimate matters of national security that the ABC will always respect, the ABC Act and Charter are explicit about the importance of an independent public broadcaster to Australian culture and democracy.

Public interest is best served by the ABC doing its job, asking difficult questions and dealing with genuine whistle-blowers who risk their livelihoods and reputations to bring matters of grave import to the surface.

Neither the journalists nor their sources should be treated as criminals.

In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security.

The onus must always be on the public's right to know.

If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.

As ABC Chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public.

Independence is not exercised by degrees.

It is absolute.

 

 

 

 

 

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns police raids on journalists

5 June 2019

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the raids on journalists by the Australian Federal Police.

NSW CCL President Pauline Wright said “Today, the Australian Federal Police raided the ABC office. Yesterday, they raided the office of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst. Two raids in two days cannot be a coincidence. We are witnessing what amounts to a state crackdown on journalism. It strikes at the heart of the freedom and independence of the press, which are a cornerstone of democracy."

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns prosecution of whistleblower Richard Boyle

5 June 2019

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) is disturbed by and condemns the prosecution of Australian Tax Office (ATO) whistleblower Richard Boyle.

In April 2018, Mr Boyle told the ABC that the ATO was inappropriately and excessively seizing the funds of people assessed as owing the ATO money, regardless of personal circumstances, in an attempt to raise money for the end of the financial year.

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties urges reform of NSW strip search laws

5 June 2019

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) calls for the urgent reform of strip search laws in NSW.

CCL President, Pauline Wright, said “A strip search is an incredibly distressing experience and should only be used as a last resort. Unfortunately, strip searches are increasingly being used by police in NSW as a more or less routine procedure. Many innocent people are being hauled aside and subjected to this indignity with deep and lasting feelings of shame and trauma being suffered by some individuals.”

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Geoffrey Rush’s $3 million judgment may have unfortunate implications for #MeToo

4 June 2019

On 24 May 2019, Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush was awarded $2.87 million for his defamation case against the Daily Telegraph. This includes $850 000 in damages, almost $2 million in past and future economic loss, and $42 000 in interest. It is the second highest defamation pay-out ever, and the highest ever awarded to a single individual. This sum does not include costs.

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Is Australia failing children accused of crimes?

27 May 2019

On Monday 13 May, ABC’s Four Corners aired a harrowing exposé about the detention in Queensland of youths suspected of criminal wrongdoing in watch houses. Watch houses are adult maximum security facilities, which are used to hold a range of offenders who have been charged with offences ranging from minor street offences to the most series offences, such as paedophilia, and murder.

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