March 2021 Roundup

Can you believe it’s April already? As 2021 zooms along, so too does the digital rights space. Here’s our take on the past month…

Techno solutionism strikes again

You may have seen the Twittersphere and media light up last week upon hearing that the NSW Police Commissioner suggested an app be developed to capture sexual consent. This is an objectively terrible idea, which was quickly shut down, largely by women across Australia who pointed out the idea’s very obvious flaws.

But beyond the foolishness of this particular idea, it does raise attention to an overarching issue at play here: society’s love for techno solutionism. 

Techno solutionism describes our desire to jump onto technical solutions as a quick way to solve complex real-world problems. And while we think tech can and should play a role in responding to societal issues, it isn’t a magic solution. When we slap ‘simple’ technological solutions onto complex issues, it often results in even more problems down the line. 

You can read more about techno solutionism, why politicians love it, and why we don’t need another app, in a blog post written by our Director, Lucie Krahulcova, here.

An update on the Online Safety Bill

Talking of trying to solve societal problems with technical solutions, the Online Safety Bill continues to move through Parliament. If you’ve seen our previous update, or if you follow us over on Twitter, you will already know that while we support some aspects of the bill, its broad-brush approach does not strike the right balance between reducing harm and upholding our freedoms. 

So where is it up to? Well, we participated in a senate inquiry hearing on the 5th of March, and conveyed a number of key concerns about the possible negative consequences of the bill in its current form (if you’re really keen, you can read the transcript here). A week later, the committee tabled its report, making only two recommendations, one of which was to pass the bill.

Since then, the bill was debated in the House of Representatives, where it received strong criticism from the Greens who did not vote for it, and some criticism from Labor, who did vote for it, but assured us that amendments will be made in the Senate.

We’ve been working with a lot of media to explain the issue (see the ICYMI section below) because we think the Australian public needs to understand the potential consequences of this bill—and because we think everyone’s above the default Reverend Lovejoy hand-wringing narrative that many conservative politicians are pushing.

Our annual report is now online!

2020 was a turbulent year in more ways than one… It certainly brought us the worst and best that technology has to offer, which kept us in the DRW camp pretty occupied. If you’d like to look back at everything we achieved last year, you can peek through our 2020 Annual Report!

What Digital Rights Watch has been up to over the past month…

  • Lizzie joined The Drum on ABC to discuss surveillance, vaccine passports, and a range of other topics.  
  • Sam and Lizzie both participated in online events, with Sam joining OVIC for their biannual Victorian Privacy Network meeting where she discussed feminism and privacy, following her piece in Overland. Lizzie joined Conversations at the Crossroads to explore how we can reclaim power from big tech and governments.
  • Lucie and Lizzie teamed up to pen a piece on the Online Safety Bill for The Saturday Paper, meanwhile Sam wrote an op-ed for Pearls and Irritations. If podcasts are more your jam, you can listen to Lucie on Triple J Hack and Lizzie on the 7am podcast.  
  • Frustrated with yet another terrible app idea, Lucie wrote a blog post on techno solutionism. Read it here.
  • We tabled our annual report, detailing everything we got up to over 2020, which you can find here. What a year it’s been, thanks for following along!
  • Lizzie spoke with the team at Juice Media about the News Media Bargaining Code for their podcast. You can listen and watch here.

Don’t miss out—mark these upcoming events in your calendar!

  • We are thrilled to announce that we are running an event as part of Melbourne Knowledge Week! We’ve put together a guided walking tour through the streets of Melbourne, looking at how surveillance and data collection interact with our public spaces. You can register here to come along to meet some of the DRW gang in person, or plug your headphones in and go solo with the audio version!
  • And if you’re around for the Melbourne Knowledge Week, you can also register to The Intelligence Service workshop (runs once on 27 April, 6-8pm) which promises to interactively explore privacy and data collection in the new age of surveillance.
  • Have you been watching the fortnightly Tech Talks? They are a great way to keep up to date on all things tech. The next one is on Friday 9 April, and you will be able to register here.
  • Join Cyber Collective on 30 April at 9am AEDT for an online event on how tech can harm marginalised groups.
  • And tickets are now out for this year’s edition of RightsCon! The world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age will take place 7-11 June 2021 and it will, once again, be entirely virtual.

We at Digital Rights Watch love to read, and we have our eye on some new and upcoming books by some of our favourite people in the digital rights world:

Long-term digital rights champion, Scott Ludlam, has just released a book called Full Circle, described as “a visionary book for our wild times.” Sounds great! You can pre-order it now, and it will be released on the 4th of May. May the fourth be with us.

Jillian York of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation has released their book: Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech under Surveillance Capitalism which presents a frontline global perspective on freedom of speech issues. We can’t wait to read it!

It’s been a few months since Ron Deibert, who founded and runs the Citizen Lab at University of Toronto, released his book ResetReclaiming the Internet for Civil Society. Dive in to learn about the disturbing influence and impact of the internet on politics, the economy, the environment, and humanity. Citizen Lab does incredible investigative research, so trust Ron to have his finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the Internet.

And of course, you’ve probably heard of Future Histories authored by our Chair Lizzie O’Shea. Good news for paperback lovers, the paperback version of her book is coming in August (but you can pre-order it now). If you grab a copy you can look back through history and progressive movements, and learn how we can build a stronger society going forward!

Happy reading, and see you later in April!