Annual Report 2019

The defence of human rights in this country is, sadly, becoming incredibly important. The reality is that our rights have consistently been compromised by successive governments, through badly designed legislation, ineffective oversight mechanisms and a failure of our political system.

We’re seeing a rise in the power of mono-capitalist technology platforms, an increase in surveillance operations in public and private spaces and the pervasiveness of technology that requires us to give up our individual privacy.

Our Government is contributing to this erosion, with warrantless mass surveillance of the public, attempts to stifle and control the free press, damaging anti-encryption laws and a rise in the use of unethical AI and algorithms in government service.

In early 2019, we were still reeling from the passage of the dangerous Assistance and Access Act – a truly horrifying example of the breakdown of our democratic processes. We saw blatant attacks on journalists who reported on national security matters, and a rapid increase in the use of facial recognition and surveillance technology by law enforcement.

But in the face of all this, there was also hope. We witnessed a parliamentary committee outright reject attempts from the government to establish a national facial recognition database. We saw a shift in public opinion that supported strong press freedom measures. We have started the process of educating local governments on how to properly and ethically manage the privacy of their residents.

Technological advancement is not just about intelligent design, clever cryptography or brilliant coding; it’s also a function of power. To make technology work for people, we need to take this power back – and demand that the development of technology involve social, political and ethical considerations.

Just because technology does certain things now, doesn’t mean it couldn’t do them better. And just because technology gives us the power to do something does not mean that we should. These tensions are not simply technological, they are political.

Protecting our digital rights is about protecting democracy – it is about shifting power away from states and companies and towards people. It’s this work that Digital Rights Watch was set up to do, and will continue to undertake.

Read more in our 2019 Annual Report