NSWCCL in the media

Concerns about facial recognition inside every Australian 7-Eleven store

Media coverage: 7News

As individual cities such as Boston and San Francisco in the United States are banning the use of facial recognition technology as part of the #BLM response, 7-Eleven in Australia has launched the technology across all of its 700 Australian stores.

The convenience store chain will use the facial recognition software within its ‘Rate It’ customer service tablet, and “not for any other purpose”.

“The use of facial recognition within the Rate It tablet is to ensure that the feedback is accurate and valid, and given customer feedback is so important to us we don’t want the system being ‘gamed’.

It’s an assurance that doesn’t sit well with Stephen Blanks from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

“This kind of information gathering should be against the law. It’s certainly against good privacy practice and principles.”

Blanks said collecting the data of people trying to provide feedback made little sense.

“They are creating an incentive not to use the feedback tablet – which is contrary to what they’re wanting to achieve.”

7NEWS.com.au understands that an element of the software’s facial recognition is to discourage 7-Eleven staff from self-rating during a shift.

“That’s not an adequate justification for gathering the information,” Blanks said.

Read more

Share

NSWCCL President & 29 prominent Australians call for truth in political advertising laws

Media coverage: NineNews, Sydney Morning Herald

NSWCCL President and former NSW DDP, Nicholas Cowdery AO QC, joins 29 prominent Australians as signatories to an open letter coordinated by The Australia Institute, calling for truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.

New polling by The Australia Institute released in conjunction with the open letter shows nine in 10 Australians (89%) say Australia should pass truth in political advertising laws. 

Signatories to the open letter include former political party leaders and politicians, Dr John Hewson, Cheryl Kernot and Michael Beahan; former Supreme Court judges, The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, The Hon Paul Stein AM QC and The Hon David Harper AM QC, as well as barristers, community leaders, business people and other prominent Australians.

'Australians want advertising to be truthful and transparent. They expect the media to self-regulate, and want laws that would penalise misleading and deceptive political ads with fines, forced retractions or losing public funding. The lack of truth in political advertising regulation is leading to declining public trust in government, politicians and parliament.

Enough is enough: we need truth in political advertising before the next election.

Political advertisements that are deceptive and misleading interfere with the public’s ability to make informed decisions.

We need truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.'

Read more or see the letter as published in the SMH (17th June 2020)

Share

Civil Liberties: Good or Bad?

Media coverage: Byron Bay Echo

- Hans Lovejoy, editor 

'With attention fixated on injustice, policing and black lives, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) is just one voice of sanity in a country awash with racism and bigotry.

Based in Sydney, they are a small group of lawyers committed to educating the public and advocating for the most vulnerable. NSWCCL said in statement regarding the marches, ‘There have been 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission – including the recent death of Tanya Day, which the coroner found to be preventable – and its recommendations have never been fully implemented.

‘To our knowledge, no one has ever been convicted in relation to those deaths. Indigenous peoples are over-policed and over-incarcerated, with adults 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous Australians and juveniles 26 times more likely to be incarcerated. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in December 2019 that while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up around three per cent of the total Australian population, they account for 29 per cent of the total adult prisoner population in Australia’.'

Read more

Share

NSWCCL President on the arrest of an Indigenous teen

Media Coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

A former judge and top prosecutor says video footage of an Indigenous teenager falling face-first after being kicked off his feet by a NSW police officer is on its face "evidence of an assault".

Former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the video raised questions about the lawfulness of the arrest because the risk the teenager would carry out his threat appeared "slight".

"Arrest is really only lawfully available to prevent further offending, to prevent flight or to ensure attendance at court," he said.

In Mr Cowdery's view, it was not reasonable to use a sweep kick when the teenager was "under restraint and standing calmly". He believed the officer should be "charged with assault and re-trained".

Read more

Share

NSWCCL President on suspension order against Aboriginal man still in place after 11 years

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

A NSW Supreme Court judge has condemned the treatment of a 35-year-old Indigenous man with a mild intellectual disability who has been subjected to a tough supervision order restricting his movements for more than a decade, saying he has not been a "truly free man" since his teens.

The five-year extended supervision order (ESO) made by the court in 2009 was "still current, 11 years later" because the clock stopped running every time he was imprisoned for even minor breaches of conditions.

Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, who is now president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the legislation introducing ESOs and other orders "was radical and controversial at the time" and was based on "a risk of future offending of a serious kind" that was difficult to predict.

"It is a form of punishment for future conduct that may not occur. Nevertheless, Parliament has the power to legislate this way in order to protect the community, but within limits," he said.

Mr Cowdery said the laws provided "a powerful rod for the backs of disadvantaged or excessively targeted groups in the community, including Indigenous people, who may be subject to such orders".

"They become an easy tool for law enforcement to use to unreasonably seek to control such people."

Read more

Share

Policing COVID-19 and the need for community support

Media coverage: Canberra Times

As state governments ease restrictions to varying degrees, Mr Blanks said that similar principles needed to be applied to exiting self-isolation as going in.

"That is you need very, very careful, sensitive enforcement from the police," Mr Blanks said.

"The police have to perform their role in a way that does not undermine community support (of restrictions) because one thing which could lead to a very quick loss of community support is if the police are seen to be picking on people unfairly, imposing fines as a first line of response instead of a last line of response, and imposing fines in ways that are not really relevant to the community health control aspect."

 

Read more

Share

NSWCCL raises new privacy concerns with COVIDSafe app

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

The Councils for Civil Liberties in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties issued a joint statement that backed the case for digital contact tracing but called for stronger safeguards.

'"More needs to be done to ensure that the app does not compromise data protection and thereby increase the risk of illegal and inappropriate use of data or surveillance of Australians," they said.

"It is also disappointing that the government has opted for centralised data storage in a national COVIDSafe data store rather than adopting the widely supported and more privacy-friendly decentralised option.

"Cyber attacks and accidental and illegal data breaches will continue to occur on Australian government databases. This storage choice creates a real risk of such breaches and will undermine users' confidence as to the safety of their private data."'

Read more

Share

NSWCCL amongst civil society groups calling on NSW Parliament to resume

Six civil society groups are today calling on the NSW State Parliament to immediately reconvene regular sittings, in a way that is safe, so it can debate and address important matters of public concern.  

The NSW community is looking to their State Government to guide them through the COVID-19 public health emergency. Issues including the impact the pandemic is having on people experiencing homelessness and domestic violence and on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be open to parliamentary scrutiny. 

As NSW teachers prepare to go back to classrooms next week, NSW MPs will sit for just one day to pass rental relief measures and are then not scheduled to sit again until September. Only with regular parliamentary processes can the Government respond to the community’s needs rapidly. 

The use of the Upper House Public Accountability Committee to review the NSW Government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic was a step in the right direction. However, the Committee is yet to hold hearings since its inception in March, and is not accepting public submissions. The Committee has, so far, not put any measures in place to improve the transparency and accountability of executive decision-making. 

Nicholas Cowdery AO QC President of NSW Council for Civil Liberties:

“There is no legal impediment to the conduct of safe sittings of parliament in the coronavirus context. Accountable government is a requirement of democracy and without it, intrusive emergency measures may become manipulated and entrenched beyond this crisis.” 

Jonathon Hunyor, CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre:

“In responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the NSW Government has been making major decisions with significant impact on our daily lives and fundamental rights. We need Parliament doing its job, ensuring oversight and accountability – it’s an essential part of our democracy.”

The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, Chair of The Centre for Public Integrity and former Judge of the NSW Court of Appeal:

"Parliament can and should sit during this crisis. Increased public spending and government intervention at this time calls for more scrutiny, not less. Australian Parliaments should follow examples set in the UK of MPs joining the chamber virtually to allow full representation across Parliament."

Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre:

“Now is the time for Parliament to shine, not shut down. We can have confidence in leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic only when decisions are transparent, open to constructive scrutiny, and responsive to the changing needs of our communities. We need regular Parliament processes back in place as soon as possible.”

See the original release from Human Rights Law Centre HERE

All NSW logos.png
Share

Police state or safety net? NSWCCL in LSJ

Media coverage: Law Society Journal

We may have flattened the curve; but have we squashed the rule of law in the process? Kate Allman, a finalist in the NSWCCL 2019 Award for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism (Young Journalists category), asks the question in this month's compelling cover story for Law Society Journal.

“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime and I am not aware of any previous restriction on movement and basic freedoms, ever, such as we have seen today,” says Stephen Blanks, a spokesperson for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

Blanks first relayed his concerns to LSJ on 31 March, the morning after the most restrictive public health order, which orders NSW citizens to stay home other than to carry out limited essential activities, was signed into law. 

“Today, being the first day of the new regulations which prohibit leaving home except with a reasonable excuse, marks an extraordinary day in our legal history,” Blanks said.

Share

NSWCCL on the application of COVID fines by NSW Police

Media coverage: 9News/AAP

Some NSW police are handing out fines arbitrarily to people confused about COVID-19 restrictions, with "already over-policed" marginalised groups being penalised unfairly, a lawyer says.

Under COVID-19 measures, police officers have the power to fine individuals $1000 and businesses $5000 breaching public health orders or ministerial directions.

As of April 20, state police had issued 95 court notices and 736 penalty infringement notices, with on-the-spot fines, since March 17.

And while some of these cases are for people legitimately refusing to comply with social-distancing measures, solicitor Peter O'Brien says people are confused about what they are allowed to do and are being penalised unfairly.

"The lack of real clarity from the political masters who put in place this legislation is leading to an arbitrary application in the streets. People are genuinely and sincerely not certain of what a reasonable excuse is," Mr O'Brien told AAP.

"I'm concerned it's being applied to people who are already over-policed, the mentally ill, those fairly marginalised in society, most of whom can't afford to pay those penalties," he said.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks questions why some of these fines are in areas of NSW where no known COVID-19 infections exist.

"The ultimate purpose of these regulations is for protection of community health," Mr Blanks told AAP.

"There was a couple in Cobar who were fined for being outside their home. The police should take into account if the activity engaged by the couple did put the community at risk. I'm not sure there are currently any infections in Cobar."

Read more

Share