June 2021 Roundup

Ironside and the International Productions Orders (IPO) Bill

Operation Ironside, where an encrypted communications application was used to trick and track criminals, gave us a media storm of discussions around surveillance. The Prime Minister used the opportunity to add some pressure on Parliament to pass three new pieces of legislation that would broaden Australia’s surveillance mandate even further. The first up was the International Productions Order Bill and it made it through the Australian Senate in a whopping 24 minutes.

The IPO gives the Australian government the mandate to enter into a data-sharing agreement with the United States. This would give Aussie law enforcement the  power to request data and communications interception directly from US-based digital platforms. However, such an agreement would fall under something known as the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act and will therefore have to be reviewed by the US Congress, who have in the past expressed concerns that Australian privacy standards are not quite up to snuff.

Will the US Congress give us a break by forcing our government to rethink the way we treat privacy? We will certainly be writing them a letter to voice our concerns about the lack of rights protections in our budding surveillance infrastructure.

Surveillance-based tech policy doesn’t “protect women”

There has been a lot of talk about women’s safety online recently. From the Online Safety Bill which has now passed through Parliament, to a renewed interest in regulating access to pornography, proposals to reduce anonymity online to mitigate online harrassment and abuse, and of course, the infamous suggestion of a sexual consent app—there is no shortage of ideas on how to keep women safe in digital spaces. 

The throughline of all these proposals relies on increased surveillance, data extraction, monitoring, and control. Our Program Lead, Samantha Floreani, draws these pieces together in our latest blog post to examine how they are framed as ways to “protect women”, but ultimately serve a political agenda that does not align with genuinely reducing harm online. No, thank you.

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

  • We ran a session at RightsCon exploring the News Media Bargaining Code, its pitfalls, and how it could be reimagined to genuinely create a more equitable system. If you registered, you can watch it back on the RightsCon platform here. You can also watch back many of the other sessions on the Access Now YouTube Channel.
  • Did you know the Code actually inspired our project on rebalancing the internet economy? Hear Lucie chat about it with Grapevine on 3RRR from 1h20 onward here.
  • Lucie spoke with Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, and ABC Radio National’s Saturday Extra about operation Ironside, encryption, and law enforcement powers.
  • Fancy more of a deep dive? Lucie also spoke at an Internet Association of Australia event on encryption, which you can watch back here.
  • Following the theme of her piece exploring tech policy and gender politics, Sam spoke with 3CR Tuesday Breakfast about privacy, police and women’s safety.
  • Lucie joined a panel hosted by Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab which explored the international tech regulation landscape. Watch it back here.
  • Sam spoke with InnovationAus and The Epoch Times about police access to COVID-19 check-in data and how it erodes public trust.
  • Sam spoke with The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph about NSW Police trialling the use of facial recognition surveillance, and the need for robust legal safeguards.

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

  • Make sure you register for our first event of 2021: EXHIBIT. More info and tickets here.
  • It’s not too late to register to join today’s Tech Talk at 1pm with Peter Lewis, Lizzie O’Shea and Dan Stinton! Tech Talks have a new home, so make sure you are signed up for updates if you want to be joining us every second week. Register here.
  • Digital Rights Watch Board Member Mark Andrejevic will be hosting this discussion on facial recognition on 12 July with Human Rights Commissioner, Ed Santow, as well as our Chair, Lizzie O’Shea. Register here.
  • Lizzie will be joining the Australian Library and Information Association Conference on Digital Rights on 14 July. Head to their website to see the program and register.
  • Want something a little funky? Splendour XR, a world first immersive virtual music festival experience, will take place 24-25 July. If you have a VR headset pop it on or tune in on a screen to explore the festival village and venues! And catch our Executive Director Lucie at the Forum discussing AI, mood recognition and the fine line between tech that is wonderful and tech that is creepy (and privacy invasive).
  • PyCon AU is coming up on September 10-12 and tickets are available here now. We loved how the PyCon team delivered an online format last year, and we are looking forward to attending this year—especially Snakeoil Academy’s Privacy and Security Track!

We are proud to join our friends at Access Now and over 170 civil society and human rights organisations to call on governments around the world to ban biometric surveillance #BanBS

Here in Australia, law enforcement are pushing ahead with trialling the use of facial recognition surveillance, despite the lack of legislative protections, and directly against the recommendation of the Australian Human Rights Commission to place a temporary ban on the use of such technology until there are robust human rights protections in place.

We at Digital Rights Watch believe that some surveillance technologies are just too dangerous to ever align with a free and just society. You can read the Open Letter calling for a ban on biometric recognition technologies here.

Want to take action more locally? Sign our petition to ban facial recognition surveillance.