Recent attempts by one NSW public school to initiate a prayer group register have been revealed alongside premier Mike Baird's proposed audit of school prayer groups, causing concern amoung parents and the public at large over government encroachment on religious freedom.
President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, called the move "thoroughly alarming".
"There are many people in the Australian community that will have personal experience, or whose parents had personal experience, of adverse consequences that flow from registration of religious affiliation. That a NSW school principal can even suggest such a scheme suggests an appalling lack of knowledge of history, or a terrible insensitivity to the experiences of many in the community. Religious freedom is protected under the Australian constitution, and that includes the right to practice religion privately. If religious activities are to be permitted in public schools, then they must be managed in a way that does not impinge on fundamental freedoms."
Source: The Guardian
There has been a dramatic rise in the number of guns across New South Wales, with currently greater than 850,000 registered firearms, averaging at about 1 gun for every 9 people.
This recent trend has concerned lawmakers such as NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who has announced plans to introduce legislation to curb the steep increase in gun ownership. While Senator Shoebridge does not yet have the support of other parties, he does have support from Stephen Blanks, the president of the New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties.
"The Council of Civil Liberties has never been supportive of a right to bear arms or to own as many guns as a person wishes," he said. "You have to take into account the community interest in safety and there is a very, very strong, overwhelming interest in the community to be safe from gun crime, inappropriate gun use and the risk of guns being stolen and used illegally."
Source: ABC News
Noise pollution monitors set up to track noise pollution from coal mining in the Hunter Valley have been found to be listening in on citizens' private conversations, intruding on privacy rights.
"President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks said the use of a monitor to record a private conversation was not only a breach of the NSW surveillance act but the Commonwealth privacy act. Mr Blanks said he believed the recent incident was worthy of investigation by the federal privacy commissioner."
Source: The Newcastle Herald
NSW CCL President Stephen Blanks condemns the abuse of power by an Australian customs agent through his 'inappropriate' use of a confiscated mobile phone for personal texting last November.
"The Australian people should be frightened that a public official in a position of apparent authority can illegally access people's phones and send messages and then the department thinks that is not a matter of public interest. That is the kind of secrecy a police state relies on to damage the reputation of people who are being targeted," Mr Blanks said.
Article: Customs officer confiscates passenger's phone and then uses it to secretly text
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
NSWCCL committee member Lydia Shelly has expressed deep concerns following a consultation on the Government’s plans to remove Australian citizenship for citizens found guilty of terrorist related activities.
"As lawyers, mothers and Australian Muslims we are committed to the rule of law, civil liberties and social cohesion. We do not believe the proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act are necessary, proportionate or productive. Existing legislation gives the government many ways to tackle terrorism," Lydia argues in her article co-written with Mariam Veiszadeh.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks recently appeared on ABC radio's PM program, condemning the Australian government's reluctance to admit Khaled Sharrouf's wife and children back into Australian society. He suggested that turning a cold shoulder toward vulnerable children, who have been exposed to traumatic events, may lead to further alienation.
"It's very important that we don't make these children the next generation of terrorists. We have to bring these children into our society and show them through our actions that they are part of our society and should be proud to be," Stephen said.
Source: ABC Radio
NSWCCL's Hannah Ryan recently spoke to FBi radio's Backchat program, expressing concerns over the Government’s Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill that passed the senate last week. It is feared that the vague wording of these laws may result in an "internet filter" and blanket bans on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
"Our concern, from a civil liberties point of view, is that (the Government's Copyright Amendment) is a really disproportionate response (to internet piracy). The way that the legislation is phrased means that any overseas site, with the primary purpose of facilitating copyright infringement, might be blocked. Our concern is that this could lead to a lot of collateral damage," Hannah stated.
Source: FBi Radio
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has argued that the Abbott government is withholding more information from the public than previous administrations. He has suggested that its attempts to prevent the flow of information about key internal decisions and proceedings are more pervasive than the previous Coalition government and its more recent Labor predecessor.
He told the Saturday paper, “This government is building a multi-level approach to stifle the ability for people to know what is really going on. Hand in hand with being secretive is a set of other measures designed to stifle free speech and stop people speaking out.”
Source: The Saturday Paper, 20/06/2015
NSWCCL has warned that use of drones by law enforcement, including NSW Police, must have clear guidelines about how the information collected will be used, and who has access.
While acknowledging the benefits for criminal investigations, President Stephen Blanks drew attention to the 'grey area' around privacy issues in relation to drones, and that individuals who may be unrelated to investigations could have their images and activities captured by these kind of devices and stored.
"There are obvious benefits for crime investigation as long as guidelines are in place which clearly say how the information is going to be used and how inappropriate access is going to be prevented," Stephen said.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 17/06/2015
The proposal by NSW Police to have warrantless access to bank records is another example of the pervasive creep of law enforcement powers, NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has told CNET, calling it "appalling".
"One of the terrible aspects of the anti-terrorism laws that have been introduced is we just see them creeping and creeping into every other field of criminal investigation," Blanks said. "What was justified originally as extraordinary powers for investigating the very worse of crimes which threaten national security...[are now] to be used for financial matters and investigations of all kinds.
"That is one of the great dangers of giving executive agencies extraordinary powers."
He also continued: "I think it's terrifying to think that law enforcement can have access to banking information, which can be hugely revealing, without any independent oversight. Traditionally, this is through the warrant system -- if police want access to information, they have to persuade a judge to give them permission.
"That's a very important safeguard to ensure that police are not making indiscriminate requests to access data and that they're having to promptly justify the requests which they do make."
Source: CNET, 17/06/2015