August 2021 Roundup

Strap in, August has been a huge month for digital rights! From the passage of the Identify and Disrupt Bill, to Apple’s announcement of its surveillance software update, to the launch of several consultations by the eSafety Commission—and we’re here to tell you all about it.

The Identify and Disrupt Bill introduces warrantless mass surveillance

The Australian government has new laws on the books to hack your computer, your online accounts, and just about any piece of technology you come into contact with. It can happen without a warrant and without you ever knowing—this is all thanks to the newly passed Identify and Disrupt legislation.

Identify and Disrupt grapples with the same issue that the anti-encryption TOLA did; for law enforcement to see and intercept what we do online. However, Identify and Disrupt goes much further, and, where it was not completely true to call TOLA an attempt at mass surveillance, Identify and Disrupt now provides that capability and overreach for both Australian Federal Police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

You can read all the details in the explainer on our website. We also added a section on what to do, which includes signing this petition to repeal the legislation. Let’s get it to 100k!

The trend of rushed online safety consultations continues

As you likely know, we’ve been critical of the Online Safety Act because we don’t believe the powers included in the Act will actually achieve a safer online experience for adults and children alike. The fight for inclusive and open online spaces isn’t over—the ongoing consultations can make a difference in how extensively the powers of the eSafety Commission are realised.

We will be writing in submissions, and we encourage you to do so too! First, the eSafety Office is seeking views on the Restricted Access System (RAS) Declaration. Submissions are due on the 12 September and will help inform the development of an age verification regime for access to online pornography, which also has it’s own call for evidence due 10 September. Why are we concerned? Age verification has been proposed around the world for years, with little success. Often it relies on invasive technology which raises privacy and security concerns (anyone remember when Peter Dutton suggested facial recognition for access to porn?). Across the pond, the UK Children’s Commissioner has proposed that Social Media should use passports and biometrics for age checks to protect children from porn online. These measures are invasive, systematically unreliable, and threaten online anonymity—which is vital.

Second, the Basic Online Safety Expectations (BOSE) will outline core and additional expectations for large social media platforms around cyber-bullying, abuse, and unlawful or harmful digital content. These expectations are likely to incentivise broad and proactive monitoring and removal of content. You can read more about our concerns in this explainer or in our initial submission. Our friend Justin Warren from EFA has done an initial exploration into the proposed BOSE for more info, and you can expect to see more from us soon! Submissions due 15 October.

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

  • Our Chair, Lizzie O’Shea teamed up with Board Member Mark Andrejevic to reflect on the News Media Bargaining Code and how it is impacting misinformation. Read it in Overland here.
  • We made a joint submission with EFA to the Productivity Commission on the Right to Repair. Sam then joined Erin Turner from CHOICE to discuss the Right to Repair on Diffusion Radio. You can listen to part one and part two
  • Our Board Member, Lauren Kelly, wrote a piece for the Conversation exploring the impact of ‘smart supermarkets’ and e-groceries on workers, and how automation is changing labour. Prefer to listen? Tune into this ABC interview.
  • Lucie joined Fastmail’s new podcast, Digital Citizen, to discuss privacy laws around the world, and how to speak up and demand digital rights!
  • Sam spoke with InnovationAus about the South Australian Government trial of a home quarantine app which uses geolocation and facial recognition software. She also spoke with them about the lack of meaningful community engagement in the eSafety consultations.
  • Lucie spoke with Information Age about an intergovernmental agreement to share data.
  • If you missed our event, EXHIBIT, you can read a write up in the Advocate here. (You can also watch it back on our YouTube Channel here.)
  • Our Deputy Chair Tom Sulston joined Diffusion Radio to discuss the 2021 Census, and Board Member Lilly Ryan joined this YouTube stream to do a deep dive into the privacy and inclusion issues!

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

  • You can now register for IMAGINE, the second of our four-part event series as part of our community-based research project to Rebalance the Internet Economy. We will be delving into the relationship between writers, poets, bloggers, wordsmiths, and digital platforms. It’s on September 30, you can learn more and register here
  • Our friends at Melbourne Activist Legal Support are running an intro to digital security workshop. Get the basics down in just 30 minutes on 5 September, 2pm AEST. 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 for 10-12 September, to hear Sam get nerdy about privacy, 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
  • The City of Melbourne is hosting a panel on the digital literacy gap on September 15, 12:30pm AEST, featuring our Program Lead, Sam Floreani. You can watch online for free, register and more info here. 
  • Don’t forget to register for fortnightly Tech Talks to keep you up to date on all the latest tech, law and human rights news. You can register for the next one (September 10) or watch back the ones you’ve missed here.
  • The Digital Media Research Centre at QUT is hosting a seminar on September 24, on conceptualising, identifying, and assessing harm on digital platforms. We are anticipating a thought provoking conversation! Details here.

You may have seen that Apple recently made an announcement it will be installing surveillance software to monitor images uploaded to iCloud and photos sent via iMessage, side-stepping encryption. The new feature is supposed to protect children and reduce the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), but it will create new risks for children, and undermine privacy and security for everyone.

Once the new functionality (a hash scan for photos) is built into Apple products, there is little to prevent governments around the world from compelling Apple to use this capability to scan for other kinds of images that they find objectionable. We’ve already seen governments turn surveillance against activists, human rights lawyers, civil society, and journalists. This technology will make it even easier.

→ Want to take action? You can sign the Electronic Frontiers Foundation petition to tell Apple: don’t scan our phones.