July 2021 Roundup

We’re well past the halfway mark of 2021 now and just when we think we’re going to have a quiet month, the world keeps turning…

Government spyware named Pegasus

You may have seen in the news that Pegasus, a spyware* made by NSO Group, was found on thousands of devices around the globe. While the company alleges that it only sells the spyware to those trying to catch “the bad guys” the evidence is clear that spyware is often turned against activists, journalists, political dissidents and crowds at protests. We think governments should not be able to operate such tools in secret and we support the call for a global moratorium on the trade of these technologies.

*What’s spyware? It’s a category of software that is remotely installed and operated to extract data from our devices. Pegasus in particular is one of the most sophisticated: it installs through a push notification (ie you don’t have to click a malicious link), it hides in less than 5% of the phone’s memory, uses little battery and even shuts off when the phone is roaming to avoid detection through additional mobile charges.

Want more? Tune into this episode of The Grapevine on RRR to hear from our Executive Director, Lucie, on how spyware and surveillance tools are turned against activists, lawyers and journalists.

Take pen to paper for the census!

It’s census time again! You might remember that last time, in 2016, it was quite the mess. From the website crashing, to lies about a denial of service attack, to of course, the significant privacy concerns regarding a change that would mean people’s identity would remain linked to the data collected…forever. At the time, Digital Rights Watch and other civil society groups called for an inquiry into the 2016 census. Fast forward, and the privacy issues with the 2016 census remain largely unresolved.

So, what should we do this year? We strongly recommend that people opt to fill out the census on paper, rather than online. Doing this gives you more control over the questions you feel comfortable answering—especially the personally identifying questions.  

Look, we’re into tech here, and we get the value of data. But digitising the census is for the benefit of the ABS, not for the benefit of Australian residents. You can get a paper census form here.

Digital identity, no thank you.

In July, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) wrapped up a public consultation on the Digital Identity Legislation Position Paper. Needless to say, we are concerned about the way that an eID would interact with our digital rights (especially since the government has a long history of trying to tie identity to internet access) so we made a submission! You can read it here.

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

  • We hosted EXHIBIT our first of four events as part of our community research project on how to Rebalance the Internet Economy. Have you read about the project yet? Head here to learn more. There are three more events coming so stay tuned! 
  • Lucie joined a panel at Splendour XR on ‘Artificial Ignorance: The ethical cost of AI bias and invisible tech’, alongside long-term friend of DRW, DR Suelette Dreyfus. You can relive the experience here.
  • Lizzie and Lucie joined forces once more to write another piece for The Saturday Paper on the growth of the digital surveillance state. Prefer to listen? Tune into the accompanying 7am podcast episode to get Lizzie directly into your earholes!
  • Will we ever stop talking about facial recognition surveillance? No, we won’t. This month Lizzie joined a webinar with Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow (thank you, and farewell!) to discuss the growing use of facial recognition in Australia. You can read about it in InnovationAus here.
  • On that note, Sam spoke with The Guardianabout NSW Police trials of facial recognition despite a lack of any legal safeguards. It’s a no from us.

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

  • Did you miss today’s Tech Talk at 1pm AEST? Lizzie, Dan and Peter dove into the metaverse and the world of spyware. Make sure you catch them every second Friday. Register here
  • We’re thrilled to see not one, but two, Digital Rights Watch faces in the PyCon AU lineup this year. Get yourself a ticket to hear Sam get nerdy about privacy and why it’s an essential part of radical social change, and from Lilly on how to banish unwanted vampires Javascript from your web app. Plus, there’s loads of other great speakers in the lineup, which you can check out here
  • Ah, the Census. What are the privacy issues we need to consider this time around? Tune into Diffusion Radio next week to hear our Deputy Chair, Tom Sulston, lay it out. You can expect to hear more from us on this soon. 
  • The Digital Media Research Centre at QUT is hosting a seminar on September 24, on Conceptualising, identifying, and assessing harm on digital platforms. This is a big issue and we are anticipating a thought provoking conversation! Details here.

We are thrilled to launch another element of our Rebalance the Internet Economy project!

place for all of us—but we need your insights to help steer it in the right direction!

We hated the News Media Bargaining Code and now we’re determined to rebalance the internet for individuals as opposed to news corporations. Do you want to help us?

We want the policy recommendations that emerge from this project to truly represent the needs of local communities and creators. We will also use this information for our future campaign work so help us by sharing your experiences and needs!

Please head to the survey, make sure your voice is heard, and then share it far and wide!

Complete the survey here!