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NSW Police to trial unmanned drones

The NSW Police is trialling unmanned drone aircraft, which if successful could be used in search and rescue and emergencies.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said he did not oppose police using drones for search and rescue operations.

But he said the public must be assured they would never be used for general surveillance activity.

"If there are benefits which can be had from the use of devices like this in emergency situations then there should be rules in place which allow these devices to be used," Mr Blanks said.

"But we also need rules that make it absolutely clear how long recordings are kept for, when they are destroyed and notification of people who may be concerned about being captured by these devices."

Article: NSW Police to trial unmanned drones

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 6/12/2014

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Drug surveillance operations an abject failure

NSWCCL Committee member Nicholas Cowdery and Dr Alex Wodak discuss the failure of NSW drug surveillance programs

"Drug arrests and the rare fatalities at dance parties and music festivals are major media stories. Community concerns about drugs ensure that politicians and police leaders are keen to be seen to be doing something. Intensive police operations fit the bill. But do they actually reduce drug use or drug harms?

During surveillance operations only in a tiny minority of searches find any drugs. Interpreting signals from the dogs, police officers often think drugs are present when there are none. Very many people who have drugs at these events are not detected. These operations achieve little and too often they are counter-productive.

NSW passed laws in 2001 to allow police to use dogs for public surveillance with the intention of catching more drug traffickers. In 2006, the NSW Ombudsman reviewed the program and found that successful prosecutions for supply were achieved in just 19 of 10211 searches. Given the scale of the NSW drug market it is an abject failure.

The impact of these intrusive searches on people's lives is a major negative of the program. Another cost is that these operations seem to only increase the health risks. The presence of drug dogs at festivals and parties creates an incentive for attendees to take all their drugs at once prior to entering. Often this is preplanned, but sometimes it is a panicked decision when confronted by the dogs. In a study of drug safety at raves, 30 per cent  of those interviewed reported that they consumed drugs to avoid detection after seeing dogs at an event. A young man overdosed and died after doing this at a music festival in Penrith in 2013. Many other harmful but nonfatal overdoses undoubtedly occur."

The full article can be found at the link below

Article: Drug surveillance operations an abject failure

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 30/11/2014

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Submission: Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014

NSWCCL's submission into the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, condemns the proposed amendments to the Legislation, as it is clear the changes intend to punish those who seek asylum from persecution, and who arrive in Australia by boat. In doing so, this bill perpetuates the myth that asylum seekers who arrive by boat are ‘illegal’ and have no legal right to seek asylum.

Moreover, the CCL condemns the amendments which suspend the rules of natural justice as they apply in the Maritime Powers Act. Such suspension removes the possibility of oversight by the judiciary, limiting the challenges to keep the actions of government in check, particularly with respect to the implementation of punitive policies on asylum seekers and refugees.

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Update on Australian Defence Force role in combatting Islamic State

In re-writing the law on foreign fighters, the Government is increasing the law and order emphasis on stopping the Australian based frontmen for Islamic State. The new and broader control order regime gives the Federal Police more scope to isolate people who are recruiting Sunni Muslims to travel abroad and fight.

"There's still a whole lot of mystery around about this intelligence sharing... I think the Australian public are entitled to know a whole lot more about how the intelligence gathering functions of government work, how they interact with law enforcement and with the defence force." - NSWCCL President, Stephen Blanks

Listen: Update on Australian Defence Force role in combatting Islamic State

Source: ABC Radio PM, 25/11/14

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Counter-terrorism laws come under scrutiny

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties and Muslim Legal Network, which will front the inquiry on Thursday, are concerned at the speed the government wants to move the laws through parliament.

"The short time frame is an abuse of process and lays the foundation for reckless lawmaking," they told the committee.

Article: Counter-terrorism laws come under scrutiny

Source: 9 News Australia, 13/11/2014

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Little dissent against Government's new changes to terror bill

The window of opportunity to complain to the government about the latest changes to national security laws has closed with barely a ripple of protest.

NSWCCL's Stephen Blanks and Muslim Legal Network's Lydia Shelly speak to ABC Radio following a joint submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security .

Listen: Little dissent against Government's new changes to terror bill

Source: ABC Radio "PM", 12/11/2014

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Proposed anti-terror law represents a "back door" to allow targeted killings of Australians on foreign battle fields

The Abbott government's latest proposed anti-terror law represents a "back door" to allow targeted killings of Australians on foreign battle fields, and make the Australian Muslim community feel "targeted" by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the Muslim Legal Network and the NSW Council of Civil Liberties argue in their joint submission to a parliamentary committee reviewing the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2014, introduced to Parliament on October 30 by Attorney-General George Brandis.

Article: Terror laws open door to targeted killings, warn Muslim and civil liberty groups

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 12/11/2014

Submission: New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties & Muslim Legal Network Joint Submission

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Joint Submission: Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties and the Muslim Legal Network of New South Wales have joined in this submission to highlight the fact that the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014, like the government’s other counter-terrorism laws, are simultaneously an attack on the civil liberties of all Australians and are, rightly or wrongly, perceived as a targeted attack on the Muslim community in Australia.

Summary of Recommendations:

  • We strongly oppose the provisions regarding Part 5.3 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (“the Control Order Regime”).
  • We strongly oppose the provisions regarding the amendments to the Intelligence Service Act (“the Intelligence Act”).

The submission also attacks the unreasonable haste with which these new laws are being introduced, allowing a mere ten days for review and submissions. This does not allow reasonable time for public debate or informed decision making by members of parliament, which we believe amounts to an abuse of process by the Australian Government resulting in reckless lawmaking.

Click here for the submission

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Privacy lost in government race for digital convenience

NSW government agencies are pushing ahead with the linking and sharing of personal data stored on massive databases to make life "convenient".

Coming soon are changes to the way Compulsory Third Party Green Slips will be purchased in 2015

The insurers are building a real-time computer interface with the registry. The industry says it wants to check for fraud, particularly where a driver claims their car is garaged, but is in fact parked on the street in a different suburb.

The president of the NSW Civil Liberties Council Stephen Blanks says opening the register to insurance companies shows the "dangers of creating databanks and function creep".

Article: Privacy lost in government race for digital convenience

Source: Sydney Morning Herald. 2/11/2014

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Insurers to check on car history before quoting premiums

Insurance companies will be able to access personal data held on the motor vehicle registry before quoting a price to a potential customer for a Green Slip, under NSW government changes.

But the NSW Civil Liberties Council president Stephen Blanks said giving insurance companies access to a government registry through a regulation change "shows the dangers of creating databanks and function creep".

This occurs where a database of personal information is created for one purpose, but over time is used for more and more purposes.

"This can be done without any real public scrutiny at an agency level," Mr Blanks said.

Article: Insurers to check on car history before quoting premiums

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 2/11/2014

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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. The content we linked to is no longer available

#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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