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.


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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NSWCCL Submission: Digital Identity Legislation Position Paper

On 16 July 2021, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties made a submission to the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) in regard to the public consultation on the Digital Identity Legislation Position Paper.

NSWCCL welcomes the codification of the DIS which will embed privacy safeguards in primary legislation not in a subordinate instrument. The DIS claims to include a number of privacy features. The effect and success of which will be known once the draft legislation is introduced. 1 Such features include voluntary participation, no single identifier, express consent and Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA) for accreditation. Despite these provisions, there are clear weaknesses. The rules, for example, will allow for the PIA to be conducted by an assessor from within the same entity as the applicant; hardly independent.

More information:

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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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Submission: Privacy and Personal Information Protection Amendment Bill 2021

NSWCCL made a submission to the NSW Department of Communities and Justice Inquiry into the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Amendment Bill 2021.

This Bill

  1. proposes the creation of a mandatory notification of data breach scheme
  2. would extend the Act to include NSW State-Owned Corporations that are not already regulated by the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)
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Submission: National Health (Privacy) Rules 2018 Review

NSWCCL made a submission to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner's National Health (Privacy) Rules 2018 review 

  • The Review has been prompted by the sunsetting of the National Health Privacy Rules 2018, which apply to the processing and storage of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS) claims information by Services Australia and the Department of Health. It will determine whether and how the Rules should be updated. 
  • NSWCCL considers that the Rules adequately protect the privacy of individuals and should not be amended. The Consultation Paper that accompanies the Review makes it clear that there is an emerging public policy approach “favouring data use and reuse in research, evidence-based decision making and the provision of government services generally.” NSWCCL does not accept that a technocratic approach to more convenient or efficient service-delivery and research policy warrants eroding the privacy safeguards in the Rules.
  • Within the last 5 years public perceptions of how data should be used and shared have changed. The expectations of a majority of Australians are in favour of more privacy protections over their information, not less. The latest Government survey of Australians’ privacy concerns shows 84% of Australians consider it to be a misuse of their information when supplied to an organisation for a specific purpose and then used for another purpose.
  • Public policy is served, under the Rules, by recognising that the information provided to the Department of Health and Services Australia is for the purpose of dealing with MBS and PBS claims and for no other secondary purpose. If there is any sensitive personal information provided to government that should not be used for secondary purposes, then, surely, this is that information. 
More information: read our full submission 
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Submission: Review of NSW Data Sharing (Government Sector) Act 2015

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Department of Customer Service in relation to the Review of the NSW Data Sharing (Government Sector) Act 2015.

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Submission: Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020 [Provisions] and Data Availability and Transparency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020

NSWCCL made a submission to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committees Inquiry into the Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020 [Provisions] and Data Availability and Transparency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020 [Provisions].

In our view, this Bill is fundamentally flawed and violates community expectations of how private personal information is treated.

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Letter: COVID check-in and personal data

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has concerns with the potential for sharing of personal and health information collected using the ServiceNSW check in tool.

The following correspondence, addressing our concerns, was sent to Minister Dominello, Department Customer Services. Similar letters were sent to Minister Hazzard and Minister Elliott.

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Submission: Review of the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020

Update 4 September 2021:

NSWCCL is disappointed that once again Government and Opposition have caved to unnecessary additional powers demanded by law enforcement. By passing the Identify and Disrupt Bill, the two major parties have introduced an unprecedented incursion onto civil liberties, giving law enforcement agencies the power to take over, copy, alter and delete the social media and other online accounts of ordinary people without proper oversight.

While justified under the guise of fighting child sexual abuse, the powers can be used to "disrupt" a broad range of offences including minor offences and to investigate whistleblowers.

The once science fiction notion ("Minority Report') that law enforcement should have extraordinary powers with a new type of "warrant" in order to prevent possible future crimes from being committed is now a reality in Australia - the latest in a two decades long process of expanding powers of law enforcement and spy agencies.

The Identify and Disrupt Bill hands sweeping new powers to the AFP and the Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to hack into the devices and networks of suspected criminals. 

NSWCCL made a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) review into the Bill, in which we argued that the Bill is a catch-all formula for abuse of power without demonstrated need or regard for proportionality. 

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