COAG has agreed to the establishment of a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability which will have access to all drivers licences in Australia - as well as visa, passport and citizenship photos. This massive biometric database will be available to state and federal security and law enforcement agencies. The rationale for this very significant increase in the capacity for real time government surveillance of most Australian residents is, of course, to better protect us.
We want governments to do all that is possible and proportionate to protect us and, as part of that, we support effective coordination between states and the federal agencies. However, NSWCCL fears that this development in mass surveillance capacity will have- over time - significant implications that are not currently appreciated for the nature of our society and the robustness of our democracy.
We note that our political leaders in their untroubled endorsement of this- and related- initiatives have blithely dismissed any concerns about the admitted impact on our privacy or other liberties we have traditionally valued.
We could take greater comfort in their assurance that they will simultaneously be 'maintaining robust privacy safeguards'if they showed a greater appreciation of, and concern for the associated risks and the likely implications of this increased capacity for state surveillance on citizens.
At this stage there is little detail as to how this increased surveillance capacity will work and what will be done to protect this massive trove of our personal biometric data from hacking or misuse.
NSWCCL has joined with other civil liberties and privacy organisations to express our deep concern at this new and significant expansion of surveillance capacity. It looks to us like a step too far even in the context of an ongoing terrorist threat.
NSWCCL PUBLIC STATEMENT
The NSWCCL calls for the withdrawal of this extraordinary Bill. It is unwarranted, unnecessary legislation.
It is a harsh response in a context which calls for more responsible, compassionate and sustainable remedies to the serious policy failures of Governments which have left so many people homeless in Sydney.
The existing powers that NSW Police have under LEPRA (Part 14) and ) and the Crown Lands Act (Sections 156, 157) are more than adequate to remove persons who present any danger or threat to the public or are engaged in any unlawful activity in Martin Place.
Homeless people sleeping in Martin Place- or other public place- are not acting unlawfully.
This Bill effectively criminalises homelessness. It is a retrograde step, contrary to the move to abolish the crime of vagrancy and other victimless crimes more than 30 years ago.
Homeless people may be causing some level of inconvenience to the public, but some level of inconvenience may be the cost we have to pay for the major homeless problem we have in Sydney.
Inconvenience can be managed more compassionately and responsibly than by rushing to force homeless people out of Martin Place when many will, of necessity, occupy other public space in inner Sydney.
NSWCCL urges the Government to abandon this rash Bill and re-engage with the City of Sydney Council and other agencies to find more sustainable solutions. Homeless people should not be forcibly removed from public spaces until alternative ongoing accommodation is available for them.
The reallocation of the purpose built Sirius building to the current inner city homeless is one obvious part of the longer term solution that could be implemented quickly.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties calls for stronger protection of the right to political protest. The recent media statements by the Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Pru Goward and Tony Abbott concerning the homeless people camping in Martin Place highlight the need to protect our right to political protest.
Protection of civil liberties is weak in Australia. The Constitution contains a weak protection of the right to political protest. In NSW we do not have the protection of a bill of rights.
Peaceful political protest often involves disruption of public spaces. If we view the right to peaceful political protest as worth upholding, the community may need to tolerate some inconvenience.
Public statements by politicians to the effect that the police should be required to dismantle peaceful political protests occurring in public spaces ignore the fact that the right to political protest is a fundamental right in a mature democracy.
Now is the time to revisit the need for a bill of rights – visit Human Rights for NSW
As part of its response to the Coroner's Report on the Lindt Cafe seige and other recent terrorist events in Australia the NSW Government has flagged a package of new counter-terrorism laws which it will implement. Much of this legislation will be part of a new national counter-terrorism package which is to be more thoroughly considered by a special COAG meeting in the near future.
Today however, the question of careful consideration was not on the agenda when the NSW Government introduced the TERRORISM LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (POLICE POWERS AND PAROLE) BILL 2017 with the intention of forcing it through Parlaiment in one or two days.
This Bill extends police powers to use lethal force in a declared terrorist incident as well as mandating a presumption against parole for people who have demonstrated support for or links to terrorist activity.
NSWCCL is deeply concerned about aspects of this Bill -especially the proposed broader trigger for the use by police of lethal powers (shoot to kill powers) in a declared terrorist incident- or a likely terrorist incident.
We do not consider it necessary- police have adequate and appropriate powers to use lethal force now when there is an imminent or immediate threat to life or of serious injury.
We consider it likely to have unintended and potentially dangerous consequences.
We are appalled that this Bill is being pushed through the NSW Parliament without reasonable time for consideration of the detailed drafting by the Parliament itself or the legal community.
The Bill was passed by the Legilsative Assembly this morning after a short and perfunctory debate. Only the Greens opposed it. No doubt it will be pushed through the Legislative Council this afternoon.
NSWCCL registers its concern at this hasty process and our opposition to the Bill in its current form.
NSWCCL has issued a media release opposing the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015.
We recognise that the amended Bill is significantly improved and less dangerous than the initial extremely flawed version.
We welcome these changes, but remain disturbed by, and opposed to, expanding citizenship-stripping laws. Australian citizens who are alleged to have engaged in terrorist related activities should be charged, taken to trial and, if found guilty, punished and imprisoned in Australia. CCL argues the Bill should not be passed by Parliament.
Should the Bill proceed, CCL opposes the inclusion of the retrospectivity provision- even though it is limited to a very small number of people. It is a breach of a fundamental rule of law and natural justice principle. Retrospective application of punitive legislation is never acceptable.
NSWCCL welcomes the inclusion of a minimum age for persons caught by the Bill’s provisions. However, that minimum age should be 18 not 14 as is proposed for conduct related provisions. We welcome the removal of the provision allowing children to have their citizenship revoked if a parent had their citizenship revoked.
We urge the membership of the influential PJCIS which is to be given an expanded oversight role in relation to the operation of this legislation, be amended to be more fully representative of the Parliament.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is gravely concerned that doctors, teachers and social workers employed in Australia’s immigration detention network could face jail for speaking out about their experiences.
With the Border Force Act 2015 coming into effect, employees working in various capacities face a two year sentence for recording or disclosing “protected information” they come into contact with as a result of their work.
As the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have noted, this restriction on free speech will prevent doctors from following their professional and ethical obligations to advocate on behalf of their patients.
“This legislation is particularly troubling given the history of poor care in immigration detention,” says NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks.
“It is telling that doctors who have worked in these centres at the highest level have previously decided to go public with their concerns. Systemic failures have led to gross human rights violations.
“These public disclosures have put pressure on governments to improve conditions in the centres.”
A steady flow of leaks to the media about sexual assaults in the Nauru detention centre eventually forced the Department of Immigration to order an independent review in October 2014. It found credible evidence of sexual assaults, which the government has now been forced to acknowledge and act upon.
“While forcing government action is one important outcome of such disclosures, it must also be remembered that the public has a right to know what is done in their name,” says Blanks.
Detention centres have always been places lacking in public scrutiny where civil liberties are overlooked. Successive governments have made sure to keep the people detained out of public view, hiding the trauma and lasting damage indefinite detention inflicts.
While the CCL notes the assurances that the new Border Force Act will not cancel out existing safeguards in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, we are unconvinced this legislation is sufficient. It sets too high a bar for whistleblowers, and circumscribes too tightly the situations in which they may share information with the public.
Furthermore, the existence of this legislation is a danger even before any doctor, teacher, or humanitarian worker is dragged before a court. Its mere existence is a threat to would-be whistleblowers, an attempt to intimidate Australian workers who see something wrong into staying quiet about it.
We know that this government has a particularly ugly tendency to target those who try to bring abuses in detention centres to the public’s attention, as seen by the unrelenting attacks on Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs.
“Australia’s immigration detention network has been made a dark place,” says Stephen Blanks.
“With this new act, the government is trying to blot out the small rays of sunlight still getting in.”
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."
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined with a number of other human rights groups calling for an overhaul to the way the Australian government campaigns to end the death penalty, today launching a new strategy document: ‘Australian Government and the Death Penalty: A Way Forward’.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Law Centre, Reprieve Australia, Australians Detained Abroad, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Civil Liberties Australia and UnitingJustice Australia have joined forces to launch the blueprint.Read more
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.
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.