Free speech, media freedoms, privacy & whistleblowing

Core concerns for this group are protecting free speech and free media from unwarranted censorship and constraint and promoting open government and whistle-blower protection.


Witness K and Bernard Collaery: civil liberty and rule of law concerns

This is a transcript of a presentation given by President Pauline Wright at a Centre for Public Integrity webinar.

There are a number of civil liberty and rule of law concerns raised by the prosecutions of Witness K and Bernard Collaery including:

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Vaccine passport concerns

UPDATE 1 October: The Secretary of NSWCCL met with representatives of the Department of Customer Services yesterday (31 Oct 21) and received assurances about some of the matters raised in our letter.

Significantly the vaccination certificate as part of the Service NSW check in tool (QR code) is just one option to use as entry to hospitality venues and events. For example, vaccinated residents of NSW will be able to show the vaccination certificate on their phone and use paper alternatives. It is envisaged that the venue will only register a tick without any sensitive health information being imparted.

Medical exemptions will be catered for and children under 16 will not require any evidence for entry to venues otherwise accessible by them.

Other assurances were given in regard to certain privacy safeguards including non-retention or collection of data which will only be held on the personal device and the temporary nature of the scheme. Push of data from the Australian Immunisation Register remains of concern, however detailed information about the scheme will be available next week for greater scrutiny ahead of its introduction.

At the National Cabinet meeting on 17 September 2021 all states and territories agreed to include people's COVID-19 vaccination status in their check-in apps, meaning the apps will act as vaccine passports. 

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Are electoral laws being misused to entrench ALP/LNP duopoly?

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) is concerned that the two major parties have joined together to limit the ability of smaller political parties to register under electoral laws. In a healthy democracy, established major parties should encourage the registration of smaller parties within reasonable and proportionate limits to enhance the contest of ideas, not seek to maintain their duopoly. 

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NSWCCL endorses Constitutional Alteration to enshrine freedom of expression

On 20 August, NSWCCL made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in regard to the Inquiry into the Constitution Alteration (Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press) 2019 (Constitutional Alteration).

The NSWCCL endorses wholeheartedly the proposed Constitutional Alteration which aims to enshrine the right of freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media, in the Constitution. This will be achieved by inserting a new Chapter IIIA and section 80A in the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.

More information:

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Is parliamentary debate being gagged?

As at 10 August, 737 votes had taken place in the current sitting of the House of Representatives. Only 297 were votes on actual pieces of legislation, while a staggering 440 votes  or 60% were for the suspension of standing orders or 'gag' orders to shut down debate.

Word cloud showing Closure as the largest word

This word cloud (from the APH website's divisions page, the source of our figures) says it all.

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OAIC Uber determination: a reminder of privacy failings in Australia

Background 

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has found Uber failed to appropriately protect the personal data of Australian customers and drivers, which was accessed in a cyber attack in October and November 2016. (For more, see the OAIC's media statement dated 23 July 2021: Uber found to have interfered with privacy).

NSWCCL statement

NSWCCL welcomes the recent determination against Uber, by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. However, it is also acts as a warning about the failures of the management of data privacy and data breach notification in Australia.

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The Government must not use charity crackdown to silence dissent

The NSWCCL is calling for the disallowance of proposed regulations could that could prevent charities from engaging in important advocacy work.

The regulations would allow the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) to deregister an organisation if it “reasonably believes” its members are likely to commit a summary offence.

We echo concerns expressed by many charities that the regulations could empower the regulator to deregister a charity for attending or promoting protests where minor offences are committed without the charity's knowledge or involvement. 

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Are our media freedoms under attack?

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is deeply concerned by the escalation in legal sanctions faced by journalists in the course of their work, as highlighted by the recent high profile Friendlyjordies case.

Friendlyjordies, or Jordan Shanks-Markovina, is a well known YouTuber and online commentator. In a number of videos, Shanks-Markovina is deeply critical of the Deputy Premier, John Barliaro, leading to a defamation case over two videos that John Barilaro alleged were part of a smear campaign against him. 

In itself, this was troubling enough: a politician in an uncomfortable position may find that a defamation case provides a convenient shield against having to answer any further awkward questions. Meanwhile, defending such cases can be an extremely costly and time-consuming exercise, giving publications significant pause for thought before publishing strong critiques of people who might be inclined to sue. (For more, see NSWCCL on politicians and defamation).

But what came next was extraordinary.

The arrest

Prompted by a complaint to police by Barilaro, Friendlyjordies producer Kristo Langker was arrested by the NSW Fixated Persons Investigations Unit (FPIU) and charged with stalking Barilaro.

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NSWCCL on politicians and defamation

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is deeply concerned by the tendency of Australian politicians to employ defamation law against journalists and critics. This behaviour has a significant potential chilling effect on freedom of expression, undermining our ability to hold politicians to account.

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ServiceNSW Check-ins: is your data safe?

UPDATE: This concern has been partially addressed by this amendment to the Public Health Order on 10 July:

 27 Direction about use and disclosure of contact details To avoid any doubt, it is directed that contact details provided under clause 25 are to be used or disclosed only for the purposes of contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislation to ensure privacy protection, similar to that passed in Western Australia, would be preferable.

From Monday 12 July, it will be mandatory for all businesses and workplaces in NSW to use the ServiceNSW Check-in tool. While contact tracing is vital for NSW given the seriousness of the current COVID19 outbreak, the NSWCCL has serious concerns about the privacy of individuals' data.

In WA, police have already accessed contact tracing data during criminal investigations on two occasions, prompting the WA Government to urgently pass legislation ensuring that contact tracing information can only be used and disclosed for contact tracing and related purposes.

Meanwhile, The Victorian and Queensland state governments have confirmed the police can access data from their respective COVID-19 QR code check-in apps with a warrant. In fact, the Queensland police have already done so.

The NSWCCL calls on the NSW Government to enact laws to ensure that data provided for contact tracing can't be used for anything else.

More information: read our public statement

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