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.


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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COVIDSafe Bill: Parliament must strengthen protections

The Australian Government has released the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill 2020 (COVIDSafe Bill) which will be considered by Parliament this week. The COVIDSafe Bill largely reproduces the biosecurity orders which made it possible to begin to download and operate the COVIDSafe App (App).

The NSW, Queensland and South Australian Councils for Civil Liberties, along with the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, support the introduction of effective digital contact tracing if it is underpinned by robust privacy and transparency legislation.

The joint statement has been sent to the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and Opposition Leader, along with all MPs and Senators. 

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Privacy and digital COVID-19 contact tracing

20th April 2020

CONCERNS RE PRIVACY AND DIGITAL COVID-19 CONTACT TRACING

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that the Australian government is progressing with Singapore-style digital options for contact tracing. The proposed app tracks, via Bluetooth technology, the previous close contacts of an individual who subsequently proves to be COVID-19 positive.  This applies to any contact (also with the app) who had spent 15 minutes or more in close proximity with the infected person.

NSWCCL is concerned with the potential of the app to compromise data protection, increasing illegal and inappropriate use of data and facilitating surveillance and stigmatisation of Australians. Any collection or use of a person’s sensitive personal data for digital contact tracing must come with the imposition of strict limitations.

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High Court decision - limited win for journalist Annika Smethurst

Today the High Court unanimously found the AFP warrant to enter  journalist Annika Smethurst’s home in search of information relating to the publication of classified information, was invalid on a technical ground:

“that it misstated the substance of s 79(3) of the Crimes Act, as it stood on 29 April 2018, and failed to state the offence to which the warrant related with sufficient precision. The entry, search and seizure which occurred on 4 June 2019 were therefore unlawful”

Costs were also awarded to the plaintiffs.  

NSWCCL welcomes this limited victory for Annika Smethurst today - but we remain deeply concerned that freedom of the press and effective investigative journalism continues to be under serious threat in Australia.  This decision does nothing to alleviate those concerns.

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Statement: Mobile device tracking of COVID-19 infected persons

April 1, 2020

PUBLIC STATEMENT

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.[1] 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.[2] At present, in Australia, contact tracing is conducted manually and directly with the affected person.[3]

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.

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Concerning additions to census collection topics

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).

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Australian doctors' plea for Assange

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.

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