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
NSWCCL has condemned the Government's proposal to strip citizenship from Australians involved in terrorism as against the rule of law, and a particularly cynical attack on fundamental principles of the due process of law given the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta this month.
President Stephen Blanks spoke to The Wire, claiming that by stripping either dual national or sole Australian citizens of their citizenship will subject those individuals to arbitrary detention "without any trial, without any evidence being presented to a court, without any judicial decision". He labelled this an "unacceptable and outrageous idea that should be rejected firmly by the community".
Stephen rejected Prime Minister Tony Abbott's claim that the proposal respects the rule of law because it allows for judicial review. This gives no comfort given the failure of this process for negative ASIO security assessments: "The cases in which people have attempted to challenge negative ASIO assessments about them through a judicial review have ended up a miserable failure. ASIO is able to keep protected from the court the information on which it has relied in coming to its assessment, and the court has no way of testing if the information held by ASIO is reliable or not reliable. And most importantly, the defendant, the individual who is the subject of the decision, has no opportunity to see the information that ASIO has used or the Minister has used, no opportunity to challenge that information, no opportunity to provide any explanations, no opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses."
Stephen also raised concerns about citizenship implications for dependents and family members, and the slippery slope for citizenship laws of this kind: "In the UK, it's apparent that the citizenship laws don't just apply to people involved in terrorism, but they can apply to people in serious organized crime, for example," Stephen told The Wire, "So already we're seeing this thin edge of a wedge: you can start with terrorists, and then serious criminal gangsters. It won't be a big step to go to sex offenders and others."
Source: The Wire, 01/06/2015
The Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that Transport for NSW has provided both police and the Department of Immigration with the data from Opal cards in over 50 cases, including relating to proceedings of an offence, reasonable grounds of an offence, and missing persons.
The department also stated that it has denied requests in about 70% of instances. NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks warns that this suggests that police were attempting to abuse their access to Opal card information: "I'm concerned that police are not exercising the necessary degree of restraint in asking for personal information where it's not appropriate."
NSWCCL again called for warrants for access to Opal card data. "It's unsatisfactory that it's left to the Department of Transport to decide whether or not this personal information should be handed over," Stephen said. "That decision should be in the hands of a judge, or a person who issues a warrant."
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 22/05/2015
Australian authorities accessing personal information without warrants, Shanghai Daily, 22/05/2015
No warrants needed to access Opal Card records, Sydney Morning Herald, 15/07/2014
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined with a number of other rights groups arguing that if Australia wants its opposition to the death penalty worldwide to be credible, it is important that Australian laws consistently reflect that opposition.
They spoke on the issuance of a blueprint for change entitled “Australian Government and the Death Penalty: A Way Forward”, which details four steps the government should take to build on the current momentum to end the death penalty.
NSWCCL joined with Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), the Human Rights Law Centre, Reprieve Australia, Australians Detained Abroad, Civil Liberties Australia and Uniting Justice Australia.
Source: Jakarta Post, 21/05/2015
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks spoke to SBS News welcoming the 12-month trial of a smoking ban in Sydney's Martin Place.
He did say, however, that it was important for the change to be introduced gradually. "It is very important that the enforcement of this ban is done in a sensitive way. It would be wrong for Council officers to be fining people in a heavy handed way." Stephen said.
Rangers will walk around Martin Place asking smokers to put their cigarettes out, and will not fine anyone at this stage. Smokers could face a $110 fine at the end of the trial.
If the trial is successful, it could be expanded to other areas such as the Pitt St Mall.
Video: SBS World News 11 May 6:30 - part 2 (from 4'24 to 6'16)
Source: SBS World News, 11/05/2015
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has spoken to 7 News expressing concerns about how Apple and Google are tracking mobile phone users' every move and storing this information.
"I think we’re going to get to the stage where we will have consumer legislation that recognises those kind of terms as being unfair," Stephen said.
Both Apple and Google track and store this data. Apple stated it uses it to provide personalised services.
Source: 7 News, 30/04/2015
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that over a hundred people attended the Staff and student meeting 'Defend USYD civil liberties' at the University of Sydney campus on Wednesday 29 April. NSWCCL President spoke at the event, defending the right of free expression on campus, and criticising the university's use of its Code of Conduct in disciplinary proceedings.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks told attendees, "Universities, which have been a hotbed of free speech for centuries, are threatening staff and students with disciplinary action for expressing themselves."
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 30/04/2015