Our right to privacy

Recently we were informed that the larger telecommunication companies were at a summit in the UK. We were told that the summit was to find a way of stopping the download of illegal activity on the internet by making your internet provider responsible for your downloads.

We stated that we were against the idea of ISPs monitoring my internet activity but that it was easy enough for them to do, as they own the infrastructure that we are using to access the internet, they have to monitor the service in order to maintain and regulate it, and we have a contract with the ISP. Our stronger objection was with the government and law enforcement having an open invitation to also monitor my internet activity. We have no contract with them and we do not give them permission to invade my privacy.

“But what about the spread of child pornography?” was the argument. “You obviously do not care about the children. I am prepared to give up my rights in order to protect the children.”

A statement like that is an obvious, emotive argument that does not take into consideration the medium and long term ramifications of handing over the rights to your privacy.

That argument is not a quick fix as it does not stop paedophiles, who use much more sophisticated methods than typing ‘child porn’ into Google.

The spread of child porn on the internet is a very serious matter and a serious solution must be found. We do not claim to have that solution, but we know that forcing everyone to give up their right to privacy in order to catch the less than 3% of the global population who have been caught with online child pornography is not the answer.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (2005) Personal Safety Survey, of all those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years, 11.1 percent were victimised by a stranger. More commonly, child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a male relative (other than the victim’s father or stepfather; 30.2%), a family friend (16.3%), an acquaintance or neighbour (15.6%), another known person (15.3%), or the father or stepfather (13.5%). It should be noted that these totals add to more than 100 percent (103.7%); this indicates that a small proportion of child sexual abuse victims (3.7%) were abused by perpetrators belonging to more than one category.

Source: http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/tandi/421-440/tandi429.html

Does this mean that males should never be left alone with children by law and be chaperoned by another adult with children at all times? Or is this a step too far, requiring a more refined approach to a very serious problem?

A long lasting solution needs to be more sophisticated. Governments, law enforcement and ISPs need to find a solution that targets the individual and not the masses.

They must find a solution that is the equivalent to a scalpel, and not a blunderbuss firing buckshot into innocent bystanders.

“But you should not mind being monitored, if you have nothing to hide”, came their response. The solution has to be far more complex.

Just because we have nothing to hide, does not mean that we want to give up our right to privacy.

For obvious historic reasons, Jewish communities in the UK have a strong aversion to governments that require intrusive and overt surveillance of the population. Large swathes of their communities value their right to privacy, a lesson learned from their bitter past.

One of our members went to buy a ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone sim card phone in Melbourne. He was asked to show them 90 points of identification, the same that would be required for an official government or financial undertaking. They scanned the picture part of his passport and sent off the details to their clearing company. After a few minutes, the clearing company came back to the shop with the message that there was no Australian visa associated with the passport that he had submitted. Apart from the fact that this was true as he had newer passport, how did they know this information?

He was applying for a mobile phone, not applying for a job. How were they able to access government records in order to establish my legal status in the country?

What right does the Australian government have to sell our information like that?

Surely our passport information should be confidential, but clearly it is not.

We are able to buy a house, a car, and obtain a job without anyone checking a visa, yet a commercial telephone company was able to check a visa status.

We object to our privacy being so blatantly violated for a commercial convenience.

There was a move in the UK a while ago to bring in identification cards, and to force everyone to carry them about their person at all times. In Australia, they do not have national identification cards, but everywhere you go people ask to see your driver’s licence as a primary form of identification.

What if you do not drive? I hear you ask. Then the police can issue you with a voluntary identification card, or you have to carry your passport and two utility bills around with you.

Some of our membership grew up as black males in a London that was still learning to see them as English, they were constantly stopped and harassed by the police. It was important for them to know and understand their rights.

The police could not ask you to turn out your pockets and then use the argument that “you should agree if you have nothing to hide”.

Shop keepers could not ask to see inside your bags (that is a bag that your own and not one that the shop has given you to carry your goods) just because you fit a profile of people that they believe steal.

If you let them look in your bag, “if you have nothing to hide”, why stop there? Whey not let them reach into your pockets and pat you down? After all, you have nothing to hide.

Black Britons, and that generation of non-whites in England, have fought too long and too hard to have our rights recognised, and we are not about to give them up on the back of some popularist, ill-conceived shock-jock soundbyte.

The same applies to the internet. Just because we have nothing to hide, it does not mean that we actively wish to give up our civil liberties. It does not mean that we want to be constantly monitored. It does not mean that we wish to be under constant surveillance and censorship.

There are always well meaning reasons for people to be coerced into giving up their basic civil liberties, but most of these mask the fact that they are substitutes for intelligent police work, or proper investigations that may be more costly and require more resources.

Crime of every description on the internet is a new frontier for the police of every nation. The law always appears to be one step behind the criminals, and the criminals have better resources.

However, this does not mean that we must “throw the baby out with the bath water”. We must not throw away the rights that we have fought so long and hard to obtain and preserve, under pressure from a government leading by fear.

It is important that we are able to have an academic debate about protecting the erosion of our civil liberties in modern society, rather than trying to win an argument from an entrenched position.

It is not only the responsibility of governments to think about solutions to 21st century problems. Collaborative thought is the only way that we will collectively find a solution to these very serious problems.

Maybe together we can assist in finding a refined and tailored solution to this difficult problem, rather than allowing governments and law enforcement with secondary agendas to implement blanket laws that dictate our fate.

The issue of privacy has been on our minds recently as the Australian government seeks to encroach on of privacy even further, by making the telecommunications companies responsible for storing our personal data for up to two years.

The government are seeking these powers under the guise that the are a handful of military trained fighters in Syria that are heading back to Australian shores and the government and law enforcement wish to keep tabs on them.

So in the eyes of some, all Australian citizens are expected to hand over even more of our civil liberties simply because it is considered by a few to be the easiest solution.

Instead let us invest more funds and resources into law enforcement.

Let us invest resources into establishing a truly credible secret service that does not rely upon hit and miss tactics, but instead uses sophisticated intelligence gathering strategies to identify, seek out and monitor credible threats, not the entire nation.

“The needs of the many, far outweigh the needs of the few”, and the many do not wish for our rights to be eroded further.

Twice a year, the Australian secret service ASIO goes to the government and ask for ever increasing powers to spy upon the citizens of Australia, not just criminals and those under suspicion, but all Australians, because to ASIO all Australians are under suspicion.

However while ASIO are happy to infringe on our privacy and civil rights, they themselves seek to have their own privacy reinforced by proposing new laws that will jail journalists for revealing ASIO secrets.


Let us not forget that while a few journalists can provide us with mindless entertainment, the majority have integrity and are professionals. These hard working women and men seek out the truths that lurk in dark corners and uncover everything from criminal scams to government conspiracies. These rights, for our own sakes, must be protected.

However governments are not the only organisations that cover their own privacy while selling ours to the highest bidder.

It was revealed in a recent wiki that Google chairman Eric Schmidt does not believe individuals have privacy rights to protect our own data.

In what can only be described as a hypocritical move, he would fight for the right for Google to protect their private information on ‘competitive’ grounds, however individuals are not afforded that same right.

Individuals also have secrets that they do not want publicly revealed.

To those that use the ‘nothing to hide’ argument, we would ask “What do you not want the world, or even specific individuals to know?” Any individual, just like a corporation, can have secrets they do not want revealed in order to maintain or create a competitive advantage over others in a competitive labour market or to keep their self respect, or to maintain their standing in the community. To Schmidt, corporations are allowed this right but not individuals.

In another twist Schmidt did not have a favourable reaction to CNET publishing of his personal data.

As stated earlier in this article, the UK government have used emergency powers to push through draconian data surveillance laws where governments and law enforcement can monitor the data of civilians. The powers used to implement these laws are only supposed to be used in a time of ‘actual’ war, where the enemy is at the gate.


These laws are being forced upon the British people with no debate and with no consultation, laws that instead of being extended should now be repealed.

Australia is following blindly into the constitutional mind field, where ASIO are seeking powers to increase surveillance on the people when the country is not at war.

However the Australian government want to protect privacy on certain things

In recent move, parliament took steps to protect against the invasion of privacy by drones.


However what appears to be a noble act, is in fact a push from commercial business like ‘free range’ livestock suppliers, who are constantly plagued by animal protection activists.

Activists regularly survey the properties of ‘free range’ farmers by flying drones over their land to document infringements and provide proof that the ‘free range’ products, for which we pay a premium, are in some cases not compliant with the already lax government laws.

So where is the opposition government in all of this? Can we rely upon them to provide balance?

Unfortunately not, because this week’s opposition government is next weeks government, and they also want to have the power to carry out surveillance on the population. All it would take is for an incursion of some description to occur on Australian soil and any politician who had opposed these draconian measures would be finished.

Under the legislation introduced into the Australian Senate on Wednesday by federal Attorney-General George Brandis, spy agencies will be given the power to access a third party’s computer.

So this is not the computer of the criminal, this is any computer that they consider ‘linked’ to that computer, regardless of the activity of the machine or the individual who owns that machine.

This means that your PC, your laptop, your phone, your tablet will be open to surveillance.

Edward Snowden in a recent interview made a startling claim that a culture exists within the NSA in which, during surveillance, nude photographs picked up of people in “sexually compromising” situations are routinely passed around.

In the same interview he continued “If you think your HIV status is secret from GCHQ, forget it,” he said. “The tools are available to protect data and communications but only if you are important enough for your doctor or lawyer to care.”

We must have open and honest debate on this subject. We cannot have decisions made in fear or out of sheer laziness to find a more refined solution.

We must equally not shy away from the real dangers that exist in the world today and strive to find a legitimate solution to this 21st century problem.

However the only way for us to find an appropriate and effective solution is to collectively debate the issue and together, as a nation, make an informed decision.

This is the Australian Privacy Act: http://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/privacy-act/the-privacy-act and these are the proposed changes: http://www.oaic.gov.au/privacy/privacy-act/privacy-law-reform

This is not the thin end of the wedge; this is the wedge.

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