Digital rights: what you should know (cause they already do)

This article is brought to you by Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA). (EFA) is a non-profit national organisation that exists to promote and protect digital rights (civil liberties) in Australia.

Want the short version? Check out the digital rights scorecard at the bottom of this article.

Image   Matthew Henry    via Unsplash

Image Matthew Henry via Unsplash

Why you should consider digital rights this election:

Yes, you may think ‘well, how bad can it really be’ or ‘they’ll do what they want anyway’ but we do have power and a right to have our privacy respected. This is one way to uphold the strength of our democracy (this is about your civil rights) and it’s way easier to protect it than to undo damage once it’s done.

Your privacy online, your right not to be tracked, to secure communications, to being forgotten, are issues you can vote on.

Key facts to get you started:

  • This study on Digital Rights in Australia, found that 57% of respondents “were concerned about their privacy being violated by corporations” and 47% “were also concerned about privacy violations by government and other people”.

  • Professor David Vaile, a teacher of cyberspace law at UNSW, says that “Australian data privacy laws are generally weak when compared with those in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union”.

  • According to the State of Digital Rights report (2018) “About 70 separate pieces of legislation have been introduced since 2001, including mandatory data retention, mass surveillance and intelligence sharing.”

So what is really going on when it comes to your digital rights?

This is just one example of what a lack of these protections can look like:

ICYMI China is using big data and artificial intelligence to fuel their social credit system that is being used to monitor and shape (through incentives and punishment) the behaviour of its citizens.

For example it has been reported that millions of travellers were blocked from buying plane and train tickets due to being classified as “discredited”

Read more: How China Is Using “Social Credit Scores” to Reward and Punish Its Citizens

So, what are your digital rights?

Digital rights are like all human rights but rights but...well, online. That means the rights you have or should have every day carry over to whenever you use your phone, laptop or even when you fill out a form with a company or government agency.

Some of these human rights are the cornerstone of the internet: you have the right to privacy online and that you can move and talk anonymously without government or corporate surveillance (i.e. watching what you do, making a note of it and potentially using it against you in some way).

Sometimes our digital rights are less person-based and more about the entire community. For example:

  • Do you believe you should have more say in your digital rights than a big tech corporation that can invest a lot of money lobbying government?

  • Would you like to be assured that you can walk around your local area without every move being captured by surveillance?

  • Do you assume that basic rights we expect in our everyday lives (like hate speech not being tolerated) should be replicated online?

Digital rights aren’t just about your activity online.. it’s a big ‘Big Brothery’ TBH:

Privacy isn’t just about what happens when you’re alone browsing Instagram; you have a right to privacy in public, but this is under threat by the growing use of mass surveillance.

If you go shopping or to a sports event, your face will likely appear on a CCTV camera. Not a big deal?

Facial recognition software stands to change this.

Would you know if a fashion store was using facial recognition software to target advertising to you?

Something easily done by tracking your in-store movements, is noting which items you showed an interest in, and then sending an email newsletter to your email account a few days later showing those items on sale. If in future these kind of capabilities are deployed, do you believe you should have to opt-in or opt-out of such ‘loyalty program’ targeting? These are the kind of policy questions facial recognition throws up.

Unless it’s regulated effectively, mass surveillance and the data it collects has the potential to undermine democratic freedoms long entrenched in Australian society and culture. If privacy policy is overly balanced in favour of corporate or government interests, you stand to suffer.

Mass surveillance online:

Another form of mass surveillance is created through tracking your online behaviour.

Every time you go online, your internet provider tracks your digital metadata (the data packets your device sends and receives ) and stores it for two years in case the Government requests access. Do you know which government agencies can access this data and for what purposes? More and more government departments and agencies are getting access to your information - places like Centrelink, local councils, police and information gathering departments, right down to the Taxi Directorate (no, really). Check out this list form 2016 to get more of a sense of this.

How does it go from a bit of data to knowing what kinda dog you have or who you might vote for?

Just to be clear, a lot of personal information about you can be inferred from understanding which websites you go to and how much data you transfer to and from those sites. Information you might normally never give away. However, this information about you can be inferred because your online behaviour will be statistically similar to another group of people about whom these things are known. Your voting behaviour, key psychological traits, your pro/anti alt-right position, your creditworthiness, all of this can theoretically be statistically inferred from your digital metadata. Are you okay with that?

In Australia, there’s no “privacy mode” to avoid this. Unless you get a VPN, and we really recommend that you do, you will be tracked.

It’s not a crime to be online, so why are your activities being recorded?  

The laws government are exempt from:

ICYMI the Australian Government are exempt from many privacy laws you may assume apply to them like the Privacy Act and the Spam Act… so, yes, this is why they can randomly text you. This exemptions were justified under the banner of protecting our democracy. You can check out some arguments for and against this here.

Privacy Vs Safety & Security: Where do we draw the line?

In 2018 the government passed what have been described as “controversial” encryption laws.

These laws, AKA the Access and Assistance Bill, basically give authorities like police and security agencies the power to access encrypted data (e.g. your whatsapp messages).

The government argues that these laws will enable them to combat “terrorism, organised crime and child predators”.

Digital rights agencies & cyber security experts are concerned that the laws, which were rushed through parliament, are problematic because “it's not possible to create a "backdoor" decryption that would safely target just one person”. In other words, it opens up the threat for people to take advantage of this and access a large amount of data.

At the time this happened, the president of The Law Council of Australia remarked “We now have a situation where unprecedented powers to access encrypted communications are now law, even though parliament knows serious problems exist”.

A flow-on effect of the laws is the threat that startup tech companies may feel compelled to move operations offshore; potentially undermining the potential of emerging industries (and future jobs) for Australians. “We must ensure that the Australian technology industry is not being held back by unnecessary legislation ,” said Electronic Frontiers Australia Chair Lyndsey Jackson.

Realistically, this topic requires its own article but now you know a bit about why these laws might be discussed in the election.

where do companies fall into this?

The key thing to know here, is that no matter what kind of government tracking might exist on your online or real-world behaviour, it is nowhere near as comprehensive or all encompassing as how companies like Facebook and Google track you. The government doesn’t know where you are right now, Google and Facebook do. The Government doesn’t have all of your private images on their cloud storage, Google and Facebook do. Your private messages, your emails, your search history - the government will never have anything like those quantities of data on you. But the government can regulate the companies that do.

And that is why you should vote for a party that cares about your digital privacy.

What can you do this election?

Vote for your digital rights.

Digital Rights Watch has created a scorecard that provides an overview of what the parties (in their view - of course you should make up your own mind and check out what each party proposes) will do for your digital rights.

Have a look to see who matches what you want most and make your voice heard. Click here to learn more about their methodology.


Ping pong and politics: why every vote counts

By Richard Schonell. April 19th 2016.

the hilarity

Yes Johnathan - the genius of it all boggles our mind too.  Source:

Yes Johnathan - the genius of it all boggles our mind too. Source:

Queensland’s local government elections held a month ago revealed two things about the state of #auspol: one, it can be hilarious, and two, every vote counts.

Lets start with the funny.

Here at Y Vote we definitely don’t condone informal voting, however we never shy away from applauding good showmanship.

One elector from Townsville demonstrated flashes of brilliance when he attempted to vote for Johnathan Thurston (aka the king of North Queensland) even though he wasn’t on the ballot paper, inadvertently confirmed that every stereotype about Queenslanders are true.

Not to be out done, the good people of Toowoomba got on board the #Kanyeforpresident train and voted for Yeezus. 

But the funniest thing to go down by far was the drawing of a ping pong ball from a bucket to resolve a dead heat between two councilors from Croydon shire.

Yep. That's right, they used ping pong balls to decide the outcome of an election.  

What’s even funnier is just how prepared Queensland was for such a contingency.

Under the Queensland Local Government Electoral Act 2011, which sets out the laws that all local government elections must abide by, the returning officer (the person responsible for counting the vote) is required to draw a marble or something similar from an ‘opaque container’ in the event of a tie.

Feel free to check out section 97, subsection 8 if you don’t believe me. 

Right there in black and white. QLD has surely lost its marbles... or other similar things.

Right there in black and white. QLD has surely lost its marbles... or other similar things.

Hilarious as it is, the fact that we have laws like this underscores just how close elections have been in the past and will continue to be in the future.

While it isn’t all that surprising that elections are tight in places like Croydon Shire, which has a tiny voting population of just 195, we still see results that come down to the wire in much larger electorates.

The 2013 federal election for the seat of Fairfax was a case in point.

Even though Fairfax has a voting population of more than 90,000 people, the result came down to a margin of seven votes after preferences were fully distributed. Following a recount, Clive Palmer managed to win by just 27 votes – and this is what the country has been stuck with ever since.

every vote counts

However, there is nothing particularly unusual about tight results.

Is this similar enough to marbles?

Is this similar enough to marbles?

In Australia’s short history we have had a number of elections decided by 10 votes or less. Probably the most exciting of all was the federal election for the seat of Ballarat in 1919, which saw Edwin Kerby defeat the sitting member Charles McGrath by a single vote.

But elections don’t have to be anywhere near that dramatic for a small number of determined voters to have a major impact, as the Queensland Local Government elections demonstrated.

One of the most interesting results on the day was the election of Greens councilor Jonathan Sri in the Gabba Ward.

This marked the first time a Greens representative has ever secured a majority of votes in any election for any level of government in Queensland. What made this result all the more remarkable is that the Gabba has been a Labor stronghold for as long as it has existed. Labor needed a 14% swing against it to lose, which is exactly what happened. 

In the end, the Liberal-National party candidate actually won the most primary votes, with the Greens candidate winning on preferences after securing 6,823 votes compared to Labor’s 6,457 – a difference of just 366 votes.

This just goes to show that there is no such thing as a safe seat if the voters really want change. 

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