December 2021 Roundup

Merry digital rights, it’s our final roundup for 2021! To see out the year, a message from our Chair, Lizzie O’Shea…

As we end a year that looks a little alarmingly like last year, Digital Rights Watch has been characteristically busy! 

It started with the introduction of the News Media Bargaining Code, and the Facebook news ban (remember that?)—where it became clear that ceding control of online spaces to mega corporations has very serious consequences. We've seen a suite of new surveillance powers, indeed some of the most aggressive to date, with the Identify and Disrupt Act facilitating mass warrantless surveillance and state sponsored hacking. For us, the overly broad Online Safety Act was a worry, and it's troubling to think that safety might be the new word for censorship. A long-overdue review of the Privacy Act has also been in the mix, and now we add to that a push to regulate social media and dispense with anonymity under the badly named 'anti-trolling' bill. With a looming election, the Coalition government wants to look busy in this space (perhaps to avoid discussion of a federal corruption body?) and in our experience that usually results in rushed and bad policy.

So, some themes are not new this year: governments have put their interests ahead of our right to digital security and companies continue to prioritise their business model over our democracy and well being. But every year I feel better about the state of our digital rights, because every year, I see our movement growing in number. It's clear that discussions about digital rights are more diverse than ever, and we've been proud to facilitate some of those through our own events and projects.

We'd love you to get more involved in our work however you can - whether that's supporting our campaigns, sharing our content, giving us feedback or becoming a regular donor. We can't promise that we can stop all the silly and bad things done by governments and companies, but we can continue to build a community of thinkers and activists who are strong enough to take them on. 

Have a safe and relaxing holiday, knowing we will be keeping an eye on your digital rights. 

- Lizzie O'Shea, Chair of Digital Rights Watch

Wow, what a year!

It’s safe to say that technology and digital platforms have had big main character energy this year. Not only have we all relied on them to keep connected through another tough year in the pandemic; the Australian government has also made ‘cracking down’ on Big Tech a key policy platform in the lead up to the election.

This year DRW made twelve submissions, appeared at five parliamentary hearings, and participated in countless roundtables, consultations and discussions—all to fight to protect our human rights. 

We launched our project examining the power imbalance between digital platforms and creators, including two online events EXHIBIT and IMAGINE. We created a guided audio tour exploring public space surveillance for Melbourne Knowledge Week, and participated in RightsCon, PyCon, and countless other events!

In the spirit of building a robust digital rights community in Australia, we spent a lot of time this year teaming up with other like-minded organisations. We collaborated with Electronic Frontiers Australia to write a submission on the Right to Repair, and then to co-host a workshop on how to write your own policy submission. We joined the Oxen Privacy Tech Foundation for a livestream all about encryption, worked with Global Partners Digital on a submission to eSafety, with Twitter to advocate for the protection of online anonymity, and wrote a joint letter to federal and state health ministers with our friends at the Human Rights Law Centre. 

After we all take a little break, 2022 is set to start with a bang! Here’s what’s coming…

  • The Review of the Privacy Act is set to move along, with submissions to the Discussion Paper due 10 January. We anticipate this will be a key issue over 2022.
  • Surveillance Reform! This has been on the horizon for a while (if you are upset about the new warrantless surveillance regime we have you can still add your voice to this petition!), and the Department of Home Affairs has just released a Discussion Paper proposing a swathe of reforms to Australia’s electronic surveillance framework. It’s a massive document, but our first glimpse has left us very concerned. Submissions are due 11 February, and you better believe we will be actively participating in this one. 
  • The Parliamentary Inquiry into Social Media and Online Safety is taking place over December-February. Submissions are due 12 January, and the report is expected in early February. Talk about a quick turnaround! This sadly continues the trend of rushed online safety consultations. We expect to see much more happening in the online safety space, especially around the issue of age verification for young people. 
  • The Social Media ‘Anti-Trolling’ Bill which gained a lot of attention in November is open for feedback until 21 January. It may be labelled ‘anti trolling’, but the bill does next to nothing to protect every day Australians from trolling. 
  • In case there was not enough happening all at once, the government has just opened up a consultation on draft copyright reform legislation. Submissions are due 11 February.
  • Digital Identity continues to roll on. Despite widespread criticism and the legislation not passing Parliament, the DTA is going full steam ahead on establishing Australia’s digital identity framework. This will undoubtedly play out in 2022. 

We’re also looking forward to more events, projects and opportunities to team up with others in the digital rights community. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we will be able to see many of you safely in the new year!