Green Party Warns of Erosion of Internet Rights in Australia

The Green party recently sounded the alarm over an erosion of Internet rights in Australia. The erosion is largely thanks to a body of legislation the government has pushed, is pushing or is amending for that mostly targets the Australian citizens privacy.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

In the midst of the latest movements on the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), there have been other developments that happened including what’s been going on in Australia. One of those stories that have been happening is the Australian Green Party sounding the alarm about an erosion of Internet rights through various pieces of government legislation. Delimiter reports:

With reference to these legal codes in Australia, Ludlam said the “one-way militarisation of the Internet” was currently “steadily eroding some of the very freedoms that our security agencies were intended to protect”. He added: “From straightforward privacy concerns to wider questions of genuine security and the integrity of a medium that holds so much promise, a healthy balance can only be struck with concerted citizen action.”

The Greens Senator highlighted a number of examples of such erosion in Australia, such as:

– Regular modifications to the Telecommunications Interception and Access (TIA) Act
– The introduction of the Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act 2011
– The introduction of the Cybercrime Bill 2011
– The introduction of data retention initiatives
– The publication of the ‘Cyber White Paper’, due at the end of June 2012
– New cyber-agreement with the US

A lot of what is discussed revolves around government surveillance, wiretapping and privacy.

The thing I find about privacy in an online environment is that many so often dismiss it as a topic of minor importance. The attitude I find from time to time is that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about. If surveillance happens, would you really notice a difference? Why is surveillance that big of a deal anyway?

To paraphrase a Canadian privacy commissioner in one of her talks, when it comes to the health of democracy, the first thing to unravel when democracy is going down the tubes is privacy. If anything, at the very least, the state of privacy in a country is ultimately the (to use a cliche) the canary in the coal mine. Is privacy at a healthy level in your society or is the government constantly trying to bring in surveillance legislation?

Another thing about privacy is that governments sometimes have a double-standard when it comes to privacy. A lot of governments (and this applies to countries in every continent) have no problem with eavesdropping on its citizens. Let’s make sure we know what our citizens are up to. Then, on the other side of the coin, if you want to talk about trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, suddenly, the government is a very big supporter of privacy, saying that such things are state secrets – that what is discussed behind closed doors is important and must remain secret no matter what. Personally, I often quietly ask: “if you can’t mind your own business, why should I?”

So, when a government starts talking about surveillance, I think there’s reason to be concerned – especially when the government in question practically behaves like it’s a vital and necessary thing and should be implemented yesterday. I believe that if surveillance is absolutely necessary, there should be reasonable due process. There has to be a very compelling reason to monitor an individual that will stand up in a court of law. Mass surveillance and an otherwise dragnet approach is something I have always been against because now everyone is being pushed into a form of guilty until proven innocent law. It also opens the door wide (depending on the wording of the law) for abuse within the system. What’s the point of a free democratic society if the people can’t enjoy the freedoms it allegedly is suppose to be providing?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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