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.


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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Statement: NSW Auditor General's Report on privacy, Service NSW

On 18 December 2020, the Auditor-General for New South Wales, Margaret Crawford, released a report criticising the effectiveness of Service NSW’s handling of customers’ personal information to ensure privacy. NSWCCL has long held concerns over the manner of the use, collection, and storage of personal information of NSW citizens by the NSW government. The damning report highlights the lack of understanding and commitment to proper privacy practices in the NSW public service.

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Submission: NSW Department of Education 2020 Code of Conduct Review

The right to free speech and the right to openly participate in political debate are rights which must be available to all residents of NSW whether or not they are employed by the Department of Education. NSWCCL is concerned that the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct by the NSW Department of Education (the Department) has the potential to reduce the civil liberties of Departmental Employees through a restriction on their rights to communicate through personal social media channels.

In this submission the NSWCCL has chosen to concentrate on question 2 in the discussion paper:

2. Where should the department set standards in respect to recognising an employee’s choice to engage with social media but ensuring the reputation of the department and public sector?

In the opinion of the NSWCCL any standards regarding the use of social media by Departmental employees should ensure their right to free speech including the right to participate in political discourse, by not going further than absolutely necessary in limiting such rights.

The proposed social media guidelines should be restricted to matters where an employee is conducting illegal behaviour, such as committing criminal offences, through their speech. No further burden on free speech is necessary for the public interest, nor justified in this context.

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Policy: Human Rights and Technology

2020 NSWCCL AGM

Item 8.3        Policy on Human Rights and Technology

Human Rights and Digital Technology

Australia has experienced an exponential uptake and increased sophistication of surveillance methods, AI informed decision making, and other modern technologies collecting vast amounts of data (Digital Technology). At the same time, laws protecting individuals against breaches of their privacy rights have not kept pace with those technologies. There has been a “drift towards self-regulation in the technology sector, as laws and regulators have not effectively anticipated or responded to new technologies” [1]. While there will always be some degree of regulatory lag with regards to policy design and implementation, capacity-building programs should specifically target policy makers to ensure the development of a policy framework that is remains relevant as technology progresses.

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Submission: Exemption of delegated legislation from parliamentary oversight

INQUIRY INTO THE EXEMPTION OF DELEGATED LEGISLATION FROM PARLIAMENTARY OVERSIGHT

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the opportunity to make submissions to the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation with respect to its Inquiry concerning the exemption of delegated legislation from parliamentary oversight.

NSWCCL commends the Committee’s resolve to meet regularly during the recent period of parliamentary adjournment to ensure its continued scrutiny of all delegated legislation, particularly disallowable executive-made COVID-19 instruments. There are significant constraints on the capacity of the Committee to scrutinise particular legislative instruments exempt from parliamentary disallowance, but it is nonetheless performing a very valuable role in flagging ‘framework’ issues.

The Australian government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been enabled by the provision of extraordinary powers to Executive Government and Government agencies. This has been achieved largely through the mechanism of determinations under the expansive human biosecurity provisions of the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth). As of 6 July 2020, there were 199 specific COVID-19 ‘instruments’ and, of greatest concern, at least 42 of these are not disallowable, denying the Committee the ability to scrutinise them.[1]

The Committee is empowered to scrutinise delegated legislation subject to parliamentary oversight against its 12 technical scrutiny principles (Senate Standing Order 23). These principles include whether the legislation unduly trespasses on personal rights and liberties. However, many of the determinations exempt from parliamentary disallowance are having a significant impact on individual rights and liberties, effectively contain serious offences and impose obligations to do or desist from certain activities. As we understand it, the Committee has no power to scrutinise whether particular pieces of delegated legislation should in fact be disallowable under the current standing orders.

The NSWCCL submission makes 7 recommendations to the Standing Committee.

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