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Data retention – secrecy by Government, pussyfooting by Labor

Yesterday opponents of Australia’s mooted data retention laws held a protest meeting in Parliament House.

It was led by three cross-bench senators who oppose the legislation – The Greens’ Scott Ludlam, independent Nick Xenophon, and libertarian David Leyonhjelm. They were joined by a large cross section of communications industry and privacy advocates, including Communications Alliance and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.

Others opposing the legislation include Electronic Frontiers Australia, Pirate Party Australia, Blueprint for Free Speech, Civil Liberties Australia, Internet Society of Australia, Institute of Public Affairs, Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, the Law Council of Australia, Liberty Victoria, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the Australian Privacy Foundation, iiNet, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, and ThoughtWorks.

Article: Data retention – secrecy by Government, pussyfooting by Labor

#StopDataRetention Campaign. The content we linked to is no longer available

Related news: Edward Snowden lawyer: 'no evidence' data retention prevents terrorist attacks

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Submission: Inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Character and Visa Cancellation) Bill 2014

NSWCCL has made a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Australian Senate concerning the Migration Amendment (Character and Visa Cancellation) Bill 2014. The main points of the submission are that:

  • The procedure for applying the character test should be taken out of the hands of the minster and his or her delegates and given instead to a new, genuinely independent body. There should be an appeal on the merits on leave to the Federal Magistrate’s Court. 
  • The various proposals to allow the minister to override the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) should be rejected. 
  • The proposals to prevent an appeal to the AAT and other tribunals concerning decisions of the minister should be rejected, and replaced by entitlements to appeal. 
  • Where convictions by foreign courts bear on the character test, provisions should ensure that only convictions for actions that would be criminal and subject to similar penalties in Australia may count. Furthermore, only convictions where the court procedures and standards of proof adopted are up to Australian standards should be accepted. 
  • The whole bill is so full of faults and poor proposals it should be rejected.

Read the full submission

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Bodycams for police backed by NSW government

The state government has thrown its support behind a push by police to be equipped with body-mounted cameras capturing every move of the NSW public. Police Association president Scott Weber said the roll out of the cameras to every front-line officer was a "natural progression" following a successful trial of the technology in some police commands and moves by the state government to allow video evidence to be used in domestic violence court cases.

Stephen Blanks, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, supported the roll-out of cameras, saying it will keep police accountable too.

"These cameras are fine so long as police can't turn them off," he said. "If they are going to have them, it's important they capture everything that occurs, not just material selected by police." 

Article: Bodycams for police backed by NSW government

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 21/10/14

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AGM 2014 - Renewal and optimism

The 51st NSWCCL Annual General Meeting was held on the 15th October 2014 in the Council Chambers at Sydney Town Hall. Around thirty CCL members -including a strong cohort of firstimers -gathered to hear annual reports from the President, Secretary and Treasurer,to elect the Executive and Committee members for 2014/5 and to endorse formal CCL policies around major civil liberties issues.

They heard that the year had been a particularly challenging and depressing one with multiple legislative assaults on civil liberties and rights from both the NSW and the Federal Governments-but that, nonetheless, CCL as an organisation was traveling well.

CCL very actively opposed unwarranted and unwise changes to the recently reformed Bail Act and two rounds of bills proposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug and alcohol fueled violence.   For most of the year CCL has been campaigning against a veritable avalanche of new and proposed counter-terrorism laws from the Federal Government which will continue to the end of the current Parliamentary session. CCL had also engaged with electoral processes at both the national (2013 election Senate voting  processes) and state level (The City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Act 2014.)

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National call for proper debate on 'foreign fighters' bill

There is growing alarm that the Australian Government is intent on rushing through Parliament very significant new counter-terrorism legislation - The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014- without allowing the community or the Parliament adequate time to understand or debate this legislation.

This is a reckless approach to legislating in any context- but particularly so when the proposed laws will have very significant implications for Australian's rights and liberties.  Today, 43 civil liberties, human rights, ethnic, academic and other civil society groups and significant academics and lawyers have published a joint statement calling on the Government to slow down:  

'Given the extraordinary nature of this Bill, the undersigned call on the Australian Parliament to not pass the Bill without a more comprehensive public consultation on the necessity of the laws and their compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations.'

NSWCCL, along with Liberty Victoria, Queensland CCL, South Australia CCL and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, signed this public statement. Two week ago we desperately scrambled to put together a submission on this bill in the ridiculously short time of the 8 days allowed by the Government. This is the largest of the counter-terrorism bills. It amends 20 existing statutes, the explanatory memo runs to 227 pages and the actual bill alone constitutes 158 pages of amendments. 

Plainly, the Government was not intent on a serious or genuine consultation process for this review. There is no urgency in relation to the vast majority of proposed laws in this bill. It is a manifest lack of respect for civil society organisations and their legitimate and important voice in the democratic process of lawmaking- and for the role of Parliament as there is no chance that members will have the opportunity to gain an informed understanding of this large bill and its complex and multitudinous provisions. 

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Our Common Cause: New security laws an assault on our freedoms

In an atmosphere of manufactured hysteria about “Muslim terrorists” in our midst, the Coalition government has introduced sweeping attacks on civil liberties in Australia.

ASIO was also given expanded powers to break into more actual houses with force and without being accompanied by the state or federal police. They have the power to break into neighbouring houses to those targeted and to use “reasonable” force not only at the point of breaking in but right through the operation.

The new laws also give ASIO legal immunity for breaking the law in any “special intelligence operation” designated by the attorney-general as long as such lawbreaking does not cause death, serious injury, torture, sexual offences or significant damage to property.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has warned that this expanded power to conduct searches and use force, without the presence of the police, formally turns ASIO into a “secret police” and is a “significant danger to Australian democracy”.

Article: Our Common Cause: New security laws an assault on our freedoms

Source: Green Left Weekly, 11/10/14

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2014 NSWCCL Annual Dinner

This year’s NSWCCL fundraising dinner was a ripper. It was a success on all fronts.  

There was a splendid turnout of over 250 friends and supporters.  The lively crowd appeared to be having a very enjoyable evening. A strong contingent of students and young members made their presence felt and overall the vibes were terrific.

Most significantly, the gathering was treated to a riveting address by the keynote speaker: Professor Ben Saul. His topic -‘The ideological war on human rights. Why are politicians so hostile to basic freedoms?”-  was spot on for the times. It was directly relevant to the efforts of civil liberties organisations across Australia to temper the Government’s unwise and reckless over-reach in its avalanche of new counter-terrorism laws, its shameful asylum seekers policies and its general attack on traditional rights and liberties.   

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Security laws could subject travellers to invasive screening without safeguards

The next tranche of the Australian government’s national security legislation could allow biometric information to be shared with domestic and foreign agencies

Stephen Blanks, the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the ability to share with other agencies without a warrant was concerning.

“Sharing of data collected for immigration control with other agencies ought to be subject to independent oversight and should only be done in circumstances which would justify the issue of a warrant,” he said.

Article: Security laws could subject travellers to invasive screening without safeguards

Source: The Guardian, 7/10/14

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Concerns raised over 'foreign fighter' laws

Under the proposed laws, people travelling to terrorism hotspots could be jailed for five years; their passports could be seized for two week periods; while welfare, family payments and paid parental leave could be cancelled on security grounds.

Stephen Blanks, from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, says children could be the real victims.

"We have concerns about the provisions for secret cancellation of passports, or cancellation of passports without notice. There are some consequences of those provisions are likely to result in children being put into detention. Now that's a hot-button issue at the moment. One can expect that the way in which cancellation of passports and visas impacts on dependents will result in detention of children.

Mr Blanks is calling for a public interest monitor to oversee the proposed laws.

Listen now: Concerns raised over 'foreign fighter' laws

Source: SBS World News Radio, 6/10/2014

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Government's counter-terrorism laws a step too far with little scrutiny

This week saw the passage of legislation that will give the Australian Security intelligence Organisation new powers to conduct "special intelligence operations", where agents will be permitted to break the law and journalists, whistleblowers and others will be penalised with up to 10 years in prison if they reveal any aspect of them.

Meanwhlie, ASIO will only need one warrant to spy on networks of computers, which some intepret to mean the entire internet.

"That could be to really any device that's connected to the internet,"  says Stephen Blanks of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. "[Intelligence agencies] will access information concerning people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing."

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 3/10/2014
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Security proposals 'significantly lower' legal standards, says human rights chief

Australia’s domestic intelligence agency would have almost “total control” over the cancellation of passports for people who are considered a security risk under proposed laws which the Australian Human Rights Commission has warned may have severe consequences.

Stephen Blanks, the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, also expressed concerns about the passport changes, and said it could see more people being held in detention.

“One can expect that the way that that impacts the cancellation of dependants passports will result in detention of children,” he said.

Article: Security proposals 'significantly lower' legal standards, says human rights chief

Source: The Guardian, 3/10/2014

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Joint Submission: Inquiry into Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014

Councils for civil liberties across Australia (New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australia Council for Civil Liberties, Australian Council for Civil Liberties) have come together to make a joint submission on the Australian Government’s Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 (the Bill).

The submission address the following issues:

  • Inadequate review timeframe
  • Extension of sunset clauses to 2025
  • Loose definitions and discretionary enforcement related to foreign incursion offences
  • Freedom of travel to 'No-Go Zones'
  • Scope of personal jurisdiction
  • Potential for indefinite arbitrary detention in lieu of timely consent for prosecution from Attorney-General
  • Advocacy offences an unreasonable imposition upon free speech
  • Potential abuse of delayed notification warrants
  • Unjustifiable revisions concerning travel document cancellation
  • Unnecessary enhancement/broadening of customs officers detention powers
  • Suspension of welfare payments retains right of review

NSWCCL has issued extensive public comment regarding this bill - read more here

Click here for the submission

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Taser use now allowed against unarmed people by South Australian police

As part of changes to guidelines, officers have been told offenders do not have to be armed before an electronic control device (ECD) can be used, but a situation must be considered high risk.

Article: SA police officers allowed to carry Tasers on their belt

Source: Yahoo!7 News, 1/10/2014

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Attorney-General reveals more counter-terrorism decisions

On Monday the Attorney-General held a press conference in which he provided more information on the two ‘tranches’ of counter terrorism legislation he is bringing into the Parliament this week. NSWCCL like other concerned organisations is struggling to stay on top of the fast moving agenda and is increasingly disturbed at what appears to be hasty decision making. 

On the basis of yesterday's press conference we have put out a statement updating our reactions to AG's latest information. This covers the Government's response to the PJCIS report on its review of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Tranche 1) and the so called bundle of new laws to deal with the threat of Australian jihardist fighters here and overseas - the 'Foreign Fighters Bill (Tranche 2). 

While we, of course, support ASIO and the AFP having adequate powers and resources  to protect Australians against the real threat of terrorist activity - as long as it is consistent with the maintenance of a healthy democracy - there is much to be concerned about in the proposals coming forward.  

Tranche No 1  The National Security Legislation Amendment Act

  • Torture and ASIO immunity in Special Intelligence Operations context

NSWCCL joined others in protesting the potential for the proposed immunity provisions to permit ASIO officers to carry out acts of torture. We therefore welcomes the AG’s decision to explicitly prohibit torture from the immunity provisions associated with the proposed ‘Special Intelligence Operation’.

The explicit prohibition in the legislation is necessary as the existing draft legislation clearly encompassed the possibility of ASIO officers having immunity for acts of torture. The issue was not a ‘red herring’ as the AG claimed, but a significant and relevant concern to remove serious ambiguity from the legislation. 

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Alarmist push on C-T powers –need for considered approach

Next week the Abbott Government will be seeking Parliamentary approval of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014.  

NSWCCL and the other civil liberties organisations across Australia- along with human rights, legal, media and community bodies- are deeply concerned about and opposed to major elements of the new counter-terrorism proposals in this bill. But at least we have had some time to consider them and present our views–even though the time (20 days) to react to a large and complex bill with such significant new powers and offences was seriously inadequate.

Now it appears the Government will also seek to rush through the, as yet unseen, new bundle of counter-terrorism proposals it has been flagging piecemeal over recent weeks.

This has become clearer in the aftermath of the major counter-terrorism raids in Sydney last Thursday and the resulting very high level of media hype and commentary by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government. This is precisely the wrong moment and the wrong kind of context to be rushing through as yet unseen significant new counter-terrorism legislation.  

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Counter-terrorism laws could pave way for torture

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has called for a one-line amendment to ensure the government’s proposed changes to counter-terrorism laws do not leave the way open for ASIO officers to argue they have legal immunity for torture.

The call has been triggered by concern that planned changes aimed at protecting undercover ASIO officers might have the unintended consequence of encouraging them to believe they have legal immunity to engage in torture.

Article: Counterterrorism laws pave way for ASIO to use torture, says Council

Source: The Australian, 19/9/14

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Redrafted Borsak bill defiant on multiple property vote

Despite strong protestations from businesses and the public, the NSW Government is proceeding with its City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014  -the ‘Borsak Bill’ - to grant multiple votes to owners of rateable land in the City of Sydney council elections.

NSWCCL joined many other deeply concerned voices in opposing the bill which Robert Borsak from the Shooters and Fishers Party introduced into the Legislative Council with the agreement of the Government. We intervened because the bill is such an obvious and disturbing affront to democratic principle.

The bill was withdrawn from Parliament earlier this month for “redrafting”. There was some hope- given the extent and strength of the opposition to it – that its most offensive elements might be amended. Certainly it was hoped the anti-democratic and retrograde proposal to give two votes to non-residential voters would be amended.  

Astonishingly, the Government has not responded to the criticism. Instead, its redrafting is only at the margins and does not remove the multiple voting rights for non-residential voters.

CCL maintains its opposition to this bill. The proposed changes offend basic civil liberties principles and should be rejected. NSWCCL supports the fundamental democratic principle of one person one vote. It is greatly disappointing that the NSW Parliament appears set to move away from democratic principles towards a local government franchise more strongly based on property.

It is even more disturbing that the Bill will allow these anti-democratic provisions to be extended to other councils by future regulation.

The Bill is currently being debated in the Legislative Council. The Labor Party and the Greens in the LC yesterday both argued strongly and convincingly against the redrafted bill.  As Fred Nile has signalled his support – and a Shooters and Fishers Party member is the lead proponent – the opposition of Labor and Greens will not be enough to block this very bad legislation.

The Greens have proposed amendments which would remove the 2 votes proposal. The independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich has an alternative bill which would deliver the administrative improvements which the Government believes are needed, without offending against the fundamental democratic principle of one vote one value.  Labor has indicated its support for the Greenwich Bill. 

Failing any of these gaining support in the Parliament, NSWCCL urges Labor to commit to repealing this legislation as soon as it regains Government.

 CCL statement to MPs

Read Labor and Greens LC speeches 

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NSWCCL accuses Labor of hypocrisy for not opposing controversial changes to bails laws

NSWCCL says it would be an extraordinary manifestation of hypocrisy for Labor to 'not oppose' the legislation, as it has suggested it will do.  CCL Secretary Lesley Lynch says  CCL greatly disappointment with the Government putting forward this bill and argues that if it is bad process and bad law, Labor should oppose the bill. 

Article Labor accused of hypocrisy over controversial changes to bail laws SMH 

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Ill-conceived bail bill set to become bad law

CCL is strongly opposed to the Governments much criticized Bail Amendment Bill 2014. We oppose it because a flawed policy making process has produced unjust and retrograde draft legislation. We expressed our opposition to the knee-jerk review process to the Government and the review chair and when the bill was debated in the assembly.  

The bill is now being debated in the Legislative Council. It looks certain to be passed with little opposition. Sadly, only 3 members of the lower house voted against it (Alex Greenwich independent, Jamie Parker Greens and Greg Piper independent). Disappointingly, the Labor Party did not oppose the bill.

Given the Shadow Attorney-General Paul Lynch’s robust, detailed demolition of the ill-conceived review of the new Bail Act and the main proposals in the Bill, Labor should support a vote to block the Bill in the upper house. The shadow AG in his second reading speech, correctly described the process leading to the bill:

'The Government's solution was to institute a bail review, which resulted in the bill presently before the House.....there are some obvious points that should be made. Most obviously, the Government does not have the slightest idea what it is doing. Then it went through an extremely exhaustive process to get the Law Reform Commission reform. It then went through another lengthy period and process to respond. After settling on its position, it took 12 months to implement the Act and ensure that practitioners and stakeholders understood it and could implement it. A very lengthy and considered approach, a cautious, careful and serious attempt to implement a change in the law—all blown away by a few weeks of bad publicity. It was a knee-jerk reaction totally at odds with the cautious, considered approach that predated it; a reaction, as was made clear by the comments of Don Weatherburn of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research [BOCSAR], that was not based upon any proper statistical analysis.'

T'he speed of its change made clear that the Government had no commitment to the scheme in which it had invested a vast amount of time and to which it devoted a great deal of consultative resources. It did not know what it actually supported, and it will probably change it again at the drop of a hat. ' 

The shadow AG concluded his critique with these words:

'The Opposition does not oppose the bill but it thinks the Government has not the slightest idea what it is doing. The Government flip-flops all over the place about this legislation. There will inevitably be another set of amendments because the Government cannot manage to keep its hands off the legislation; it has no clear idea of what it wants to do and how it will do it. The Government is driven by a number of factors, none of which have anything to do with serious and proper policymaking. The Opposition does not oppose this bill, but it will watch with considerable interest what happens to it over time.'

CCL urges Labor to rethink this decision. It would be an extraordinary manifestation of hypocrisy for Labor to 'not oppose' the legislation, as it has suggested it will do. 

The NSW community is in search of good government.  Labor will only be able to position itself as an electable party if it demonstrates it is capable of acting on principle and sound policy analysis.

Labor knows there was no sound reason for the review.    Labor knows that the Bill is not good law. Labor knows the changes will lead to unjust outcomes for individuals.  Labor knows that the increased gaol population will be an unnecessary cost to Government. 

Labor knows that this whole knee-jerk process to review and amend a new law after 3 weeks is a travesty and a depressing return to the appalling process that generated the 85 amendments that made the old Act unworkable.

The Government should not have introduced this Bill.  Attorney General Brad Hazzard was correct in saying a review was not warranted  (Daily Telegraph 19/6/14).  The law and order auction fuelled by shock-jocks is not in the public interest.

NSWCCL will continue to lobby the Government and the Parliament to withdraw this bill and, in the longer term, to take a more principled and responsible approach to policy development and the making of our laws.  

 

 

 

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NSW Police cyber hacking could be breaking the law, warns civil liberties lawyer

WikiLeaks documents suggest that NSW Police have invested more than $2.5 million on German surveillance software that officers are using to hack into suspects' smartphones and computers. NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks speaks to ABC Radio about NSW Police usage of cyber hacking tools.

Listen now: NSW Police cyber hacking could be breaking the law, warns civil liberties lawyer

Source: ABC Radio, 16/9/14

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