The Sydney Morning Heral's Michael Koziol looks back at a year during which civil liberties became an 'acceptable casualty' of efforts to counter the pandemic. He asks: "But what of the civil libertarians and rights organisations whose job – whose raison d’etre – is to fight for individual freedoms against state power? Did they abandon the field? Or have they been fruitlessly shouting into the void?"
NSW President Pauline Wright says that activists were very active, but rarely heard.
Read the full article here: ‘Missing in action’: What happened to the civil liberties movement?
Facing the Senate committee, probing the Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020, was Jonathan Gadir from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, who highlighted the discrepancy between the goals of the Bill and what it actually allows to occur.
Media coverage: ITNews
'Federal, state and territory leaders have agreed to create an intergovernmental agreement to facilitate greater data sharing between all levels of government.
The plan for the high-level agreement, which is still to be developed, was endorsed at a meeting of national cabinet.
“National cabinet agreed that jurisdictions will work together to capitalise on the value of public data to achieve better outcomes for Australians,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
While details remain scarce, the pact will likely make it easier for federal, state and territory government to share data, building on efforts with health and travel data during Covid-19.
The planned agreement would likely work alongside the Data Availability and Transparency Bill, which is currently before federal parliament.
The legislation aims to streamline data sharing between governments and the private sector, overriding some 500 provisions in 175 pieces of existing legislation.
But it faces calls for amendments from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Australian Medical Association and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.'
Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald
'Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello has promised mandatory venue check-ins will be lifted “as soon as we get the green light from health experts”, as privacy experts warn the COVID-19 check-in tool lacks safeguards.
Mr Dominello said the QR code system was only intended for contact tracing during “pandemic conditions” but those might continue for some time....
Mr Dominello said the data was securely stored for 28 days and then destroyed, and “under no circumstance ... shared with other parties or agencies outside NSW Health”. Privacy was at the “forefront of our thinking” when delivering digital services, he said.
But Michelle Falstein, secretary of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, warned personal data collected by the check-in tool could be used for purposes other than contact tracing.
“Such broad purpose could enable the sharing of health information with police or for any other number of additional, loosely linked purposes not anticipated by the public,” Ms Falstein said in a letter to Mr Dominello.
Ms Falstein also expressed concern about the lack of an end date for use of the check-in tool to enter businesses such as pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues.'
Media coverage: Spectator Australia
'On Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined his ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown. An important aspect of this plan is vaccine ‘passports’, even though, as Fraser Nelson wrote on The Spectator’s Coffee House website the next day, Johnson didn’t want to admit to them. He referred to his plans as ‘Covid status certification’.
Such a plan is fraught with several legal and ethical questions, leading to many MPs voicing strong opposition to vaccine ‘passports’. Last weekend a group of 72 MPs signed a pledge against them. This ‘cross-party coalition’ includes Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has stated vaccine ‘passports’ would be against the “British instinct”. Another signatory is Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. One of the Conservative signatories, Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said: “COVID-status certification would be divisive and discriminatory.” He added: “With high levels of vaccination protecting the vulnerable and making transmission less likely, we should aim to return to normal life, not to put permanent restrictions in place.”
Therein lies the problem...
With regard to vaccine ‘passports’ for travel, NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Stephen Blanks said last November that the Federal Government would need to ensure that appropriate allowances are made for people who have legitimate reasons for not getting vaccinated. Those reasons could be health, religious or conscientious based. Such reasons would be protected in accordance with articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia has ratified. Those articles guarantee freedom of speech, conscience and religion.'
Media coverage: Sky News
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has spearheaded the push to introduce sexual consent technology via an app, in a bid to cut sexual violence against women.
The app would allow users to send and receive requests for sexual encounters.
Media coverage: InnovationAus
Civil society has been “completely sidelined and ignored” in the inquiry into the government’s proposed new hacking powers, after no civil or digital rights groups were invited to the only public hearing, Deakin University senior lecturer Dr Monique Mann says.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) is conducting an inquiry into the Identify and Disrupt Bill, which hands sweeping powers to the Federal Police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to hack into the devices and networks of suspected criminals to ‘disrupt’ their data and covertly take over their accounts.
The PJCIS held its only public hearing as part of its inquiry last week, but no civil or digital rights organisations were invited to appear before the committee.
The NSW Council of Civil Liberties labelled the proposed laws a “catch-all formula for abuse” and “next in an accelerating wave, strengthening the powers of the state without any humility about the cumulative erosion of democratic freedoms they entail”.
Media coverage: The Saturday Paper
Media coverage: The Guardian
A former president of the Law Council, Pauline Wright, and workplace expert Narreen Young, said that if a CEO of a company or a senior lawyer in a firm were accused of a similar historical crime, they would normally step down while an investigation took place.
“If it was a partner in a law firm, generally speaking a complaint would be made to the Law Society of NSW, if it was in NSW, or the office of the legal services commissioner,” Wright said.
“And an investigation would take place by the independent body, and it would be looking at whether the person was fit and proper to continue on the roll of solicitors, or admitted as a barrister. The potential outcome for a solicitor or barrister is being struck off. Because this is the sort of thing that would bring the profession into disrepute”.
Wright said that, as the first law officer, the attorney general should be held to a similar standard.
Any inquiry would look at “fitness to continue in the role as opposed to criminal guilt”, she said, and thus would not conflict with the criminal law.
“It is not looking at his criminal guilt,” she said. “It is looking at whether or not he is of that very high standard that we expect of ministers, particularly of the first law officer.
“There would be numerous examples where individuals are accused of inappropriate behaviour where it is not referred to the police necessarily,” she said. “You might find the complainant doesn’t want to go to court but is very happy for there to be an investigation internally.”
Wright, who is also the president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said that an independent inquiry could also apply a different standard of proof – higher than the usual civil standard of “balance of probabilities”.
“There is another standard called comfortable satisfaction, which is a higher standard than balance of probabilities, but not as high as reasonable doubt.
“It is the kind of standard that is often applied in administrative proceedings. I would have thought that is the kind of standard you were meaning to apply in a potentially serious allegation”.