April 1, 2020
Mobile device tracking of COVID-19 infected persons
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that the Commonwealth government is progressing with Singapore-style digital options for contact tracing: the identification, contacting and monitoring of those who may be infected with COVID-19, and their contacts. In addition, the Australian government has now launched a Coronavirus Australia app and WhatsApp group, to provide Australians with information, and advice, about the pandemic. The Coronavirus Australia app permits the voluntary registration of a person’s self-isolation but does not, currently, provide for contact tracing. At present, in Australia, contact tracing is conducted manually and directly with the affected person.
NSWCCL supports the appropriate and generalised use of aggregated, anonymised map data for tracking people’s movements; to assist health services and determine where to target critical medical resources. Contact tracing is essential. However, any collection or use of a person’s sensitive personal data for digital contact tracing must come with the imposition of strict limitations.
The move to monitor citizens’ movements may set a dangerous precedent. Contact tracing and the wider application of mobile device tracking would enable the Australian government to assemble a person’s location history into a single, searchable database. Mobile device tracking, in Australia, could involve tracking infected persons to ensure compliance with self-quarantine, as in Israel (see below). South Korean authorities publicly share details of the age, gender and location of persons infected with COVID-19, by mobile phone alert and on the government’s health website. Often that information is sufficient to identify the infected person.
NSWCCL calls for complete transparency from the Australian government of its development and use of any mobile device tracking technology in this emergency.Read more
NSWCCL provided a submission to the Australian Treasury on the Census and Statistics Amendment (Statistical Information) Regulations 2019 (Regs) amending the Census and Statistics Regulation 2016. This amendment makes significant and concerning changes to the regulation which we oppose on privacy grounds.
Whilst NSWCCL supports the updating of the statistical information topics for inclusion in the census we oppose mandatory collection of sensitive health information and its storage for 4 years by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The amendment proposes the insertion of a new topic relating to health conditions diagnosed by a doctor or a nurse which must be answered by all respondents. The rationale is that this information will assist health service planning and delivery.
We oppose this proposal is given the retention of that information by the ABS.
In 2016 the Australian government reinstated a plan to retain names and addresses from the census, a move which leaves open the opportunity for a future government to access sensitive personal information. NSWCCL appreciates the need for longitudinal studies but considers these can be conducted on a sample basis. We continue to support the prior approach to the census which collected important census information but which was disassociated from the individual identification data.
As a minimum we recommend the ABS conduct an adequate, independent, publicly available, Privacy Impact Statement (PIA).
We also registered our objection to the timing of the consultation period which ended on 10th January to the Xmas/NY holiday period. This does not suggest a serious desire to generate community input to the review process.
Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans has rallied a group of over 100 doctors who have written to the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Marise Payne asking that the Australian government meet its obligation to its citizen and intervene for wellbeing of Julian Assange.
The doctors' action follows warnings from medical and human rights experts that Mr Assange’s health is rapidly deteriorating and that he might die in a UK prison where he is being held pending US extradition hearings that begin in February.
Extract from the #Doctors4Assange letter:
'We call upon you to intervene as a matter of urgency. As Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, you have an undeniable legal obligation to protect your citizen against the abuse of his fundamental human rights, stemming from US efforts to extradite Mr Assange for journalism and publishing that exposed US war crimes.
“The evidence is overwhelming and clear.. Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.” - UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Professor Nils Melzer
On 1 November 2019, Professor Melzer was forced to intervene once more: “What we have seen from the UK Government's outright contempt for Mr Assange’s rights and integrity... Despite the medical urgency of my appeal, and the seriousness of the alleged violations, the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law.” He concluded: “Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life.”
These are extraordinary and unprecedented statements by the world’s foremost authority on torture. The Australian government has shamefully been complicit by its refusal to act, over many years. Should Mr Assange die in a British prison, people will want to know what you, Minister, did to prevent his death.
We urge you to negotiate Julian Assange’s safe passage from Belmarsh Prison to an appropriate hospital setting in Australia, before it is too late.'
If you are a doctor and wish to join the campaign, please contact - firstname.lastname@example.org
Press Freedom and Whistleblowers
Policy motion considered at the NSWCCL 2019 Annual General Meeting, 23rd October 2019
NSWCCL has for many years defended the rights of a free and uncensored press to ensure the public is sufficiently informed and able to hold those in power to account.
We support the statements of Ita Buttrose at our 2019 annual dinner that there are storm clouds gathering around the ways that information is controlled. Whistleblowers who bring stories to light must not be subjected to a public show of prosecution under the guise of national security, or be censored because their story may cause embarrassment or cost to those in power.
We believe that whistleblowers are not adequately protected in Australia. Particularly in the absence of a bill or charter of rights, specific protection should be enacted.
The New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make submissions to the Department of Health on the Health Legislation Amendment (Data- matching) Bill 2019 (Bill) and the Health Legislation Amendment (Permitted Information Disclosure) Regulations 2019.
NSWCCL supports the integrity of the Medicare health payments system provided that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect sensitive information and the privacy of Australians is respected.
NSWCCL objects to the sharing of sensitive health information with other Commonwealth entities and opposes the Bill in its current form. NSWCCL has a number of recommendations detailed in this submission.
NSWCCL has reproduced below the full statement made today by the Chair of the ABC in defence of the independent public broadcaster in response to the intimidating raids by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC and a News Corporation journalist.
We do so because of the profound threat to a free press, to legitimate whistle blowers and to the public's right to know posed by these extraordinary raids.
We do so also because we are greatly relieved that the independent broadcaster has a chair who appears to understand the significance of 'independent' in this context.
ABC Chair Ita Buttrose's statement in full
On behalf of the ABC, I have registered with the Federal Government my grave concern over this week's raid by the federal police on the national broadcaster.
An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy.
It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives.
Observance of this basic tenet of the community's right to know has driven my involvement in public life and my career in journalism for almost five decades.
The raid is unprecedented — both to the ABC and to me.
In a frank conversation with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, yesterday, I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly designed to intimidate.
It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week's events: raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account.
I also asked for assurances that the ABC not be subject to future raids of this sort. Mr Fletcher declined to provide such assurances, while noting the "substantial concern" registered by the Corporation.
There has been much reference in recent days to the need to observe the rule of law.
While there are legitimate matters of national security that the ABC will always respect, the ABC Act and Charter are explicit about the importance of an independent public broadcaster to Australian culture and democracy.
Public interest is best served by the ABC doing its job, asking difficult questions and dealing with genuine whistle-blowers who risk their livelihoods and reputations to bring matters of grave import to the surface.
Neither the journalists nor their sources should be treated as criminals.
In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security.
The onus must always be on the public's right to know.
If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.
As ABC Chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public.
Independence is not exercised by degrees.
It is absolute.
5 June 2019
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the raids on journalists by the Australian Federal Police.
NSW CCL President Pauline Wright said “Today, the Australian Federal Police raided the ABC office. Yesterday, they raided the office of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst. Two raids in two days cannot be a coincidence. We are witnessing what amounts to a state crackdown on journalism. It strikes at the heart of the freedom and independence of the press, which are a cornerstone of democracy."Read more
5 June 2019
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) is disturbed by and condemns the prosecution of Australian Tax Office (ATO) whistleblower Richard Boyle.
In April 2018, Mr Boyle told the ABC that the ATO was inappropriately and excessively seizing the funds of people assessed as owing the ATO money, regardless of personal circumstances, in an attempt to raise money for the end of the financial year.Read more
1 April 2019
After upholding an application by the NSW Police Commissioner to prohibit a Stop Adani protest scheduled to take place in Newtown in February, the NSW Supreme Court rejected an application by the Police Commissioner that the organizer of the protest pay his legal costs for going to Court.
The Stop Adani protest was intended to proceed along King St, Newtown on 17 February, the same day as Fair Day organized by Mardi Gras in nearby Victoria Park. The Court considered that the level of disruption which would be caused by closing King St for the duration of the Stop Adani protest on the same day as Fair Day justified the making of a prohibition order.Read more
NSWCCL condemns government attempt to rush Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) condemns pressure from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to rush its review into the Telecommunication and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018.
On 20 September, the Assistance and Access Bill was referred to PJCIS. Submissions to the Inquiry closed on 12 October, and public hearings into the bill are set to continue to 4 December. The purpose of the bill is to enable police and intelligence agencies to undermine the privacy protections of encryption. Media reports indicate that Dutton wrote to PJCIS, urging it to “accelerate its consideration of this vital piece of legislation to enable its passage by the parliament before it rises for the Christmas break."Read more