NSWCCL News

Privacy advocates warnings on metadata laws

Media coverage: Information Age, Australian Computer Society

Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton has once again invoked the spectre of paedophiles and terrorists in calling for an expansion of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)’s powers that would allow the foreign-focused agency to conduct domestic investigations for the first time.

A long-simmering policy change, the ABC reports, would allow the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to enlist the services of the ASD – the government’s overseas surveillance and signals-intelligence unit, which “operates in the slim area between the difficult and the impossible”, as its Web site puts it – to investigate certain matters within Australia’s borders.

Privacy advocates such as the Law Council of Australia and NSW Council for Civil Liberties, labelled metadata laws “indiscriminate and excessive” warned about the “cumulative chilling and intimidatory impact of the Government’s expanded surveillance powers and secrecy offences”.

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NSWCCL Vice President on invasive searches and drug testing at Sydney festival

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

One in 10 children at a Sydney under-age music festival faced random drug testing that has been labelled by legal experts "potentially unlawful" and an infringement on civil liberties.

Samantha Lee, police accountability solicitor at the Redfern Legal Centre, said the measures were "potentially unlawful" and jeopardised the safety of young people.

"This weekend, young people still considered minors under the law – and without a parent or guardian present – are about to be subjected to invasive drug and alcohol testing usually restricted to roadside use or conducted on people operating dangerous workplace machinery," she said.

"Upon entry to the festival, these young people will be confronted by drug dogs, police and security with no understanding of their legal rights, and no one present to advocate on their behalf."

Rebecca McMahon, vice-president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said the measures adopted by festival organisers were a concerning infringement on civil liberties and personal integrity.

"Young people especially should have the freedom to enjoy music without being subjected to unreasonable restrictions on their possessions, oppressive searches and invasive drug testing," she said.

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CCL at Religious Discrimination Bill protest rally

Despite the rain, NSWCCL Committee member, Lydia Shelly (pictured) spoke at Sydney's No Right to Discriminate: Religious Discrimination Bill protest rally this month. Lydia spoke to the CCL position on the bill, how religious groups have been co-opted, and the implications of the proposed bill.

CCL supports the need for a law against religious discrimination, but this Bill subverts key principles as to the ‘indivisibility and equality’ of human rights. It grossly over-privileges religious rights to the detriment of other rights. It seriously weakens existing anti-discrimination laws. It will cause harm to many groups and generate dissension and ill-will in our community.

It is CCL's view that the Government must withdraw this Bill and start again with a better and more cohesive process. More detail on CCL position HERE.

*Lydia Shelly is a lawyer and student in terrorism and security studies, and  a Committee Member, NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

 Here we share the speech Lydia gave at the rally.


 

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NSWCCL concerned LECC Inquiry into strip searches effectively 'scrapped'

Media coverage: 9 News
The NSW police watchdog will hear further evidence regarding strip searches, its acting boss says, following concerns the inquiry had effectively been "scrapped" by the state government.
Concerns were raised over the future of the inquiry after the coalition revealed in December that the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission's then-chief commissioner, Michael Adams QC, would not have his appointment renewed.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties vice president Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson on the weekend expressed concern the inquiry was effectively being "scrapped" by the government because it "stands to be embarrassed by the commission's findings".

He said the commission had been poised to hear "some of the most damning and dramatic evidence against routinised strip-searches" before Mr Adams was let go.

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NSWCCL also joined calls to re-instate Commissioner Adams

"The commission has been shut down at precisely the moment when it was poised to hear some of the most damning and dramatic evidence against routinised strip-searches," Dr Schofield-Georgeson told AAP.
"What we would like in an ideal world is for Mr Adams QC to be reappointed as the commissioner.

 

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NSWCCL President 'police strip search targets a political exercise'

Media coverage: The Saturday Paper

In New South Wales, police now have quotas to search people and move on others. They call these “proactive strategies”. This financial year, they will conduct 237,089 searches. Some will be strip-searches. Some will be conducted against minors. Few will turn up results.

Police set these targets. They hoped for 241,632 searches last financial year, but fell short by a couple of thousand. There is no evidence the targets reduce crime. If anything, they distract police and malign the community.

On Thursday, Nicholas Cowdery, QC, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the quotas created a “great potential for abuse of power”. The state’s former director of public prosecutions said the “natural human response will be to seek to meet the target by proper or improper means – by fudging, by exercising power where it is not properly warranted”.

Most potently, he said the targets were “a political exercise on the part of the police and, consequently, on the part of the government”.

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NSWCCL President says police strip search targets open to abuse of power

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

NSW Police aimed to conduct almost a quarter of a million personal searches last financial year as part of a quota-driven system slammed as a politically motivated "numbers game" by the state's ex-top prosecutor.

Figures revealed under freedom-of-information laws show individual police area commands are set targets for the execution of powers such as searches and move-on orders, as well as addressing an array of crimes, with people in some areas targeted for searches at nearly 13 times the average rate.

Former director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, who is now the president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said the use of targets meant there was "great potential for abuse of power."

"If a target is set by superior officers, especially a target that will be relevant to performance assessment, natural human response will be to seek to meet the target by proper or improper means - by fudging, by exercising power where it is not properly warranted," he said.

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Walking together for a better future

In 2018, CCL endorsed the recommendations of the Final Report of the National Constitutional Convention, held at Uluru in 2017. CCL resolved to call on the Australian Government/Parliament to respect and act on the recommendations of the Report and to progress the Uluru Statement From The Heart recommendation for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament. The Convention also called for the establishment of a ‘Makaratta Commission’ to oversee the process of truthtelling and agreement making, referencing the notion, 'nothing about us, without us'. 

CCL also supports extra-constitutional recognition of the unique role played by First Nations communities in Australia. This would be a clear assertion of self-determination, with the potential to profoundly benefit First Nations Peoples.

In late 2019 we founded our First Nations Justice Action Group to plan and guide our work in this space.

CCL joins advocates and community leaders to talk First Nations Justice

Recently, CCL was invited to join a meeting at Australia Hall with advocates and First Nations community leaders to talk about paths forward for recognition of truth, for self-determination, and First Nations justice. Present were representatives from Reconciliation NSW, Change the RecordAustralians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR), Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land CouncilAboriginal Catholic Ministry and the Jewish Board of Deputies. Also attending were community members who are passionate about progress on justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

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Strip search inquiry cut short

NSWCCL condemns the premature closure of the inquiry into potentially illegal strip searches conducted on minors by police in NSW. The Guardian has revealed that the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) confirmed it will no longer hold further hearings as part of the inquiry, which last year uncovered evidence of the widespread misuse of strip search powers by police in NSW.  

The LECC had been due to hold more public hearings in either late January or February into the psychological impacts of strip searching on minors, but in a brief statement a spokeswoman for the LECC said it now had “no intention to call further evidence at this stage”.

The decision to cut the inquiry short comes just a month after the NSW government announced it would not renew the term of its chief commissioner, Michael Adams QC, which prompted accusations his removal was a “cynical” attempt to cut the inquiry short.

Held in October and December, the public hearings revealed a disturbing pattern of police misusing strip search powers on minors, as well as evidence that many police do not understand the laws governing strip searches. Police data referenced at the inquiry shows that routinely, strip searches are not being used only in 'serious and urgent circumstances', indicating widespread contravention of the law.

Evidence tabled shows that when 30 teenagers were strip searched at an underage Sydney music festival in February 2019, just five had an appropriate adult present. Presence of a parent/guardian is mandatory under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act for anyone aged between 10 and 18.

In one case a 16-year-old girl was fearful and in tears after she was forced to strip naked and squat in front of a police officer who then “looked underneath” her at the Splendour in the Grass festival in 2018.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties Vice-President, Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson states, "This inquiry was key to uncovering processes and investigating questionable practices. Reform is needed, both internal police practice, as well as legislative reform. Clarification of strip search powers in both the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW), and in regulations, was recommended by UNSW law academics Dr Michael Grewcock and Dr Vicki Sentas in Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police. It's important people, particularly minors, are aware of their rights when asked by police to submit to a strip search." 

This issue is "about changing the conversation about policing in NSW," explains Redfern Legal Centre head of police accountability Samantha Lee. "It's a conversation that talks about minimising harms, securing dignity and still keeping the community safe."

Strip search practices raise major issues of police accountability. Strip searches are on the rise in New South Wales, with searches increasing by 46.8 percent over four years and on average, in 64 percent of cases, nothing unlawful is being found. Find out more in Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police, commissioned by Redfern Legal Centre and published by UNSW Law.

- NSWCCL President, Nick Cowdery AO QC

Contact: office@nswccl.org.au


NSWCCL, Redfern Legal Centre and 2SER are collaborating on Strip searches and the law: Project Podcast. The episodes will cover issues such as what to do if you, your family or friends are approached by police and or drug detection dogs, and what powers police have to search, seize, detain and arrest.

Will you help us make Project Podcast happen? We are looking for community support to produce the episodes. For an organisation like ours that relies on members and supporters to further our work, every dollar counts. 

Please support this project with a donation today.

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NSWCCL calls for withdrawal of revised religious discrimination bill

NSWCCL has made a submission on the Government's second exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019. This follows our highly critical, but nonetheless, slightly hopeful submission on the first exposure draft of the Bill in October last year. We had been hopeful that the many problems civil liberties and human rights groups had identified in the Bill might be addressed, so that this second version would provide much needed protections against religious discrimination -particularly for minority religions - which are appropriately balanced with the rights of other groups in the Australian community. 

The draft Bill's up-front objectives are spot-on: to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religious belief; to ensure everyone has the same rights to equality before the law and that people can make statements of religious belief- all subject to reasonable restrictions. Most significantly they affirm the 'indivisibility and universality of human rights and their equal status in international law.' (Clause 3) 

However the new draft  Bill fails to deliver on these objectives - it dangerously expands the over-privileging of religious rights in relation to other rights, weakens existing protections available for other groups under current state and federal anti-discrimination laws.  If it becomes law, this Bill will increase  discrimination against and harm for many groups in the Australian community. 

It seems clear that the objects of the draft Bill have been distorted by the insertion of numerous provisions for the sole reason of conceding to the demands of major religious groups for both exceptionally broad rights and protections from discrimination by others and an extraordinary range of exemptions and exceptions amounting to an extensive right to discriminate against others with legal impunity.

In summary, NSWCCL considers this second exposure draft Bill privileges religious rights to the detriment of other rights and weakens existing anti-discrimination laws much more seriously than did the first exposure draft. We are firmly of the belief that the Government must withdraw the Bill and start again with a better and more cohesive process. 

 

 NSWCCL submission on the second exposure draft RDB

 

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Religious Discrimination Bill: a Trojan Horse

Media Coverage: The Guardian

- Article by NSWCCL Committee Member, Lydia Shelly, lawyer and student in terrorism and security studies.

'‘For Muslims, this bill is a Trojan horse. It will enshrine prejudice and discrimination into law."

This article brings to light the very real challenges that the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 raises for people of minority faiths and the LGBTQI community.

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