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
The Australian reports that at a recent public inquiry by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM), CCL Secretary Lesley Lynch argued that the new s35P in the ASIO Act should be repealed. The provision gives ASIO officers immunity for unlawful criminal conduct in these operations and makes it a serious criminal offence for anyone, including journalists, to disclose any information about them. This will seriously constrain the ability of journalists to report on wrongdoing or abuse of power by ASIO.
Source: The Australian, 28/04/2015
See also: Combined CCLs submission to the inquiry
In the lead up to speaking at the University of Sydney staff and student meeting 'Defend Civil Liberties at University', CCL President Stephen Blanks has spoken to the Sydney Morning Herald and New Matilda on the importance of protecting free speech and the right to protest on university campuses. "How bizarre is it that universities, which have been a hotbed of free speech for centuries, are threatening staff and students with disciplinary action for expressing themselves," Stephen told the SMH.
Stephen condemned the university's decision to invoke its 'vague' code of conduct against staff and students involved in legitimate protest. He told New Matilda: "The Code of Conduct has in it an obligation on staff to treat people with respect and dignity. That of course is fine in academic discourse but in the context of a protest it’s completely inappropriate. The essence of protest is that one can be contemptuous of those with whom you disagree and you don’t need to treat them with respect. That’s not to say that there’s any justification for breaches of the peace, but that’s not the allegation here."
He also questioned whether the use of force by security guards was proportionate to the situation.
NSWCCL's involvement comes after the University sent "show cause" letters to 13 people - including five students, a Professor, and two security guards - in relation to a protest held during a public talk on a Sydney University campus by retired British Colonel Richard Kemp.
Source: Sydney Morning Herld, 27/04/2015
Source: New Matilda, 24/04/2015
Lateline obtained documents under FOI containing correspondence between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Ministers. The documents show requests to pass on information to foreign authorities about Australians who potentially could face the death penalty under other nations' laws.
This process of obtaining Ministerial authority when the AFP passes on information in these contexts is in line with guidelines implemented in 2009, following an ongoing campaign by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.
CCL President Stephen Blanks told Lateline: "It should make the AFP very wary about how they behave in these sorts of situations... the 2009 guidelines are entirely appropriate to make sure that there is some oversight of what they're doing."
Unfortunately, the guidelines came too late for Bali Nine pair Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, scheduled to be executed this week. The AFP, however, claim they acted appropriately in passing information about the Bali Nine on to Indonesian authorities.
Source: ABC Lateline, 24/04/2015
See also: AFP must explain its role in Bali executions, The New Daily, 29/04/2015
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks spoke to The Australian on the disturbing revelations that NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) may have acted inappropriately when seizing the phones of crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen and her family members during a corruption investigation.
The Australian reports that ICAC officers used a notice to produce, rather than a warrant, to seize mobile phones. This highlights the importance of checks and balances when agencies use coercive powers, with Stephen Blanks warning without these checks, such powers can be abused. “ICAC should not be able to self-issue warrants,” he said.
Source: The Australian, 17/04/2015
CCL President Stephen Blanks spoke to A Current Affair about his concerns if parents use phone monitoring app Teensafe, a tool marketed at parents to monitor and track the phone activity of their kids. The app allows parents to view their children's texts, calls, GPS location, web browsing, messaging through other apps, Instagram and Facebook activity.
"It's absurd that children aged 16 can consent to sex, but this product can be used to spy on their private lives," Stephen told ACA.
He also warned that there is a danger the account information could fall into the wrong hands, and that adults could be breaking the law if the app is used to spy on people over the age of 18.
The implications for the privacy of children is also critical. "All parents have got a responsibility for keeping their children safe, of course," Stephen said, "But that's not to say that parents should be allowed to deprive their children of necessary privacy."
Source: A Current Affair, 14/04/2015
CCL Executive Member Hannah Ryan has written a powerful opinion piece for New Matilda, arguing that Labor has been 'bought out' on data retention and has not lived up to its responsibility as a robust Opposition. The small amount of protection for journalists offers little consolation and leaves "the rotten core of the bill entirely unassailed". She writes:
"But if one imagines a responsible opposition party, genuinely interested in making good law and sticking up for journalists, one would think that party might have allowed news organisations to put their case on data retention to Parliament, as they were due to do before Labor agreed on the amendments and cancelled the hearing...
But the focus on its own interests is both predictable and irresponsible. The question of the design of the warrant scheme for access to journalists’ data has obscured the stark fact that we are a hair’s breadth away from legislating the loss of privacy for all Australians...
The weakness of the protection given to journalists should be of concern to anyone interested in the practice of investigative journalism, and ultimately in democracy, but it is most remarkable for the fact that it was the sorry bartering chip which Labor accepted in exchange for the transformation of this country into one where we are all suspects."
Source: New Matilda, 24/03/2015
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has warned consumers about the potential for misuse of their data in shopping centres' new strategy of tracking shoppers' habits over centre-provided Wi-Fi.
A basic connection to free Wi-Fi made available in Westfield centres will allow them to track information about the phone user, and send marketing material directly to the phone based on this data.
Stephen Blanks prompts consumers to question: "How is my information going to be used? Is it going to be compiled for a long-term tracking history? Is it going to be saleable information? Is the shopping centre going to make money [from it]?"
Source: 9 News, 23/03/2015
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks was quoted in The Saturday Paper on Labor's position on data retention and other national security issues, particularly their continued alignment with the Government on all aspects. Stephen indicated he was appalled not only by the various tranches of unnecessary national security legislation itself - including the extraordinary powers given to ASIO to access individuals computers, the exemption of ASIO officers from prosecution, the criminalising of reporting on ASIO special operations, and the ability to cancel passports without notice or right of appeal - but also that Labor has "rolled over" to pass them.
"I’m afraid I’ve got to the point where I don’t think Labor believes in anything," Stephen said, "Everything is tradeable. It is a political tactic to enable them to say there is not a cigarette paper of difference between them and the government on this stuff."
Source: The Saturday Paper, 14/03/15
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has indicated its opposition to the creation of a new spitting offence, proposed by the Police Association of NSW. An act of this nature is already covered under the existing offence of assault, and so further legislation is unnecessary. The police union is also calling for powers that force anyone who transmits a bodily fluid - including spit, blood or urine - to emergency workers, to be tested for diseases. CCL would support the introduction of this kind of mandatory testing provided there is appropriate regulation and safeguards in place.
Source: 9 News, 11/3/15