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.
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
Civil penalties for non-consensual sharing of intimate images -“revenge porn”
In a recent submission to the Department of Communication & the Arts, NSWCCL made specific recommendations to a proposed Commonwealth government prohibition on non-consensual sharing of intimate images, colloquially referred to as “revenge porn”. We also addressed the question of appropriate civil penalties to deter, prevent and mitigate harm to victims, by individuals and content hosts, who breach the prohibition.
NSWCCL considers the non-consensual sharing of intimate images to be a privacy issue. It occurs when experiences, deemed private, are distributed without consent to the public, the victim’s family, work mates, employer or friends. Nonetheless, privacy requires a balance of interests, therefore defences of public interest and consent should be available to the perpetrator.
The prohibition proposed by the government would be modelled on the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act 2015 (Cth) (EOSC Act). NSWCCL agrees that many of the provisions in the EOSC Act are suitable to deal with the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. The EOSC Act establishes the role for a Commissioner to oversee a cooperative social media service scheme. The Commissioner is also authorised to approach the Federal Court for civil penalties, enforceable undertakings and injunctions. A great benefit to complainants is that once a complaint proceeds, the Commissioner’s office takes over the process for removal of the material. NSWCCL agrees that the Commissioner should have a similar role to deal with non-consensually shared intimate images.Read more
NSWCCL recently lodged a submission with the Attorney General’s Department and the Department of Communications and Arts in January 2017. We reiterated our view that the current metadata scheme is an affront to civil liberties and oppose its extension into civil proceedings. Extension of the uses to which metadata may be put is one of the reasons that we opposed the introduction of laws requiring collection and retention of metadata in the first place.
In our submission we noted the international experience, which suggests that metadata rarely makes a difference in criminal investigations.
A commonly cited justification for allowing access to metadata is in family violence or international child abduction cases. However, experts in the field are not convinced this justification is warranted, bearing in mind that perpetrators of domestic violence can also use retained metadata to track their victims.
It is necessary to balance against this issue the fact that allowing access to metadata in civil proceedings can jeopardise the safety of whistleblowers and open the floodgates to fishing expeditions during litigation. Allowing access to metadata in these circumstances is a clear example of mission creep.
For the retention and use of metadata to be justified, it must be beneficial and proportionate to the benefit. In our view, it is not necessary for the reduction of terrorism and other serious crimes, let alone the far less serious issue of civil litigation. Extension of the uses to which metadata may be put is one of the reasons that we opposed the introduction of laws requiring collection and retention of metadata in the first place.
In noting this, NSWCCL recommended that:
- The existing legislation should be repealed and a targeted data surveillance scheme instituted instead.
- The period for which information is stored should be reduced from 2 years to 6 months
- Civil proceedings should continue to be excluded.
We are looking forward to attending an Evening with Edward Snowden in Sydney, which is being staged by ThinkInc. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will be appearing via video link. We are running a competition for supporters who are yet to join CCL. The first 2 supporters to join CCL as members will receive a complimentary ticket to the event. Please email us at [email protected] when you sign up as a member to enter the competition. Supporters and members may also obtain a discount on the ticket price by entering the code NSWCCL when booking. See you on the 28th!Read more
In early 2016, a group of organisations and individuals formed and launched the Digital Rights Watch, an advocacy group whose mission is to ensure that Australian citizens are equipped, empowered and enabled to uphold their digital rights.
The coalition, which included representatives from NSWCCL, saw the need to form DRW in response to increasingly oppressive policy by the government in eroding the rights of its citizens online, such as mandatory data retention, website blocking legislation, industry code for online copyright infringement, and the constricting effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the digital rights of Australians.
The DRW is mobilising for various upcoming campaigns, and we are looking for any volunteers and supporters who are interested in joining with us to deliver a fairer, freer, internet for all Australians!
Got questions/comments on this exciting new campaign? Email us at [email protected]
Tuesday (13 October) is the key date in data retention. From this day, most internet companies and telcos must start storing their customer's metadata and making it accessible to government agencies without a warrant.
The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 requires telecommunications service providers to retain their customers' metadata for 2 years. Retained data will include the customer’s identity, and the date, time and form of communications. There is an exception if the Commonwealth decides that a service provider is allowed to delay implementation. The exception lasts for up to 18 months.
Government agencies tasked with enforcing criminal law such as the state and federal police will be able to access the retained data, if they consider it reasonably necessary for enforcing the criminal law. Other agencies tasked with imposing civil fines (such as the Australian Tax Office, Local Governments or the RSPCA) may also be given access to the data.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties considers mandatory data retention a core civil liberties issue. NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks said "the regime is indiscriminate and poorly regulated. There is a real risk the stored information might be misused by government agencies. It’s akin to banning everyone in the country from having blinds on their windows because a handful among us might be engaged in crime."
A Right to Know? NSW Council for Civil Liberties Calls out for Freedom of Information Requests
New South Wales is celebrating ‘Right to Know Week’ soon, and to celebrate, we’re helping you get access to information that you have the right to know.
The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 gives you the right to access most information held by NSW government and public bodies.
The idea is that our democracy depends on a representative government that is transparent and accessible to its citizens.
However, some people have expressed concern that the system doesn’t work: that agencies over-charge, or don’t comply with the law. That means that the right to know isn’t as powerful in practice as it should be.
Our plan is to help you get access to information that you are legally entitled to access, and see how well the system works in the process.
So: what are you curious about? Tell us what information you’d like to know, and we’ll try to get it for you.
FYI, the Act applies to:
- All governments agencies
- Ministers and staff
- Local council
- State-owned corporations
- Public authorities, like universities
So get thinking!
We’ll track our progress on getting the information for you – from the application process to the outcome and whatever happens in between.
Send in your requests to [email protected] by 4 October 2015 and we’ll choose the five most interesting.
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."
Speech delivered by NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks to Staff and Student Meeting - Defend USYD Civil Liberties at the University of Sydney on Wednesday 29 April 2015.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present.
It is pleasing to see concern about civil liberties as a central issue at the University of Sydney. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has had strong links with the University since our foundation in 1963.
NSWCCL is joining this meeting today because we are concerned that the University reacting in a disturbingly disproportionate way to the incidents which occurred at the Colonel Richard Kemp lecture on 11 March 2015.Read more