AGD maintains position as Australia’s most opaque bureaucracy

The Attorney General’s Department continues it’s ultra-conservative approach to transparency and freedom of information, by denying what is essentially ‘only metadata’ for its most senior bureaucrat, the Department’s Secretary Roger Wilkins. Explaining that the information does not exist in discrete form and that it would take 35.5 working days to provide 4 months of Mr. Wilkins’ appointment diary, telephone logs, records of entertainment received and any gifts received, Corporate Counsel Maggie Jackson spuriously refused access to the information because it would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of this Department.

I had initially requested 24 months of the aforementioned metadata — but this was estimated to take, at a minimum, 187.5 days for officers to sift through, collate, redact and provide in a format adequate for the Australian public’s consumption. It’s important to note here, I was not after content data, what the meetings were in regards to — but ‘only metadata’. You know, who the Secretary talked to, what organisations, whether there were any gifts or entertainment received, not wholly unlike the metadata the Attorney-Generals Department seems intent on mandating the collection of. Information you’d think, the Department would keep in discrete form, as a matter of course, for one of the most senior and powerful public servants in its employ. Queries as to why such records were not kept in discrete form with regards to the revision of scope were of course entirely ignored.

The AGD and its officers continue to advocate and drive for the implementation of astonishing powers for law enforcement and spy agencies, that erode the civil liberties and privacy of every Australian, legitimising already ongoing illegal practices that violate fundamental human rights. They continue to advocate for an industry cosy with the Department, arranging back door negotiations and directing Departmental resources to craft laws that would attack sharing and copy culture, necessarily requiring the surveillance of everyone. But any scrutiny that should normally be applied to the powerful public servants that advocate for the dramatic shifts in Australian law, is just too damn hard. Ain’t no Department got time fo’ that.

ASIC and s313

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of ASIC’s handy work in accidentally(!) blocking 250,000 websites under s313 of the Telecommunications Act and the good work of pirate activists in extracting information about other incidents of s313 blocking.

I applied at about the same time for similar information but extended my request to include some of the policy or protocol statements regarding the agency’s use of the powers s313 granted it, as well as minutes or records of any meetings.

a) Internal policy or protocol statements, guides or memoranda regarding the use of s313 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 for the purposes of requesting from Internet Service Providers, Carriers or Carriage Service Providers, the blocking, filtering or other interference with access to websites determined by ASIC, or by a judicial authority on application from ASIC, as warranting such action, produced or currently valid for the period 12 months prior to this request.

b) In particular, documents, reports, memoranda or internal communication relating specifically to the request by ASIC to Internet Service Providers, Carriers or Carriage Service Providers to block the websites mentioned in the ASIC Media Release 13061MR[1] entitled ‘ASIC warns consumers about Global Capital Wealth’.

c) Memoranda, records or minutes of any meeting or correspondence, between the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Attorney General’s Department or any other Ministry or Government agency for the purposes of discussing the use of s313 of the Telecommunications Act 1997, within the last 12 months of the date of this request, as discussed by Ms Sachi Wimmer, First Assistant Secretary, Cyber Policy and Homeland Security Division in Senate Estimates, in the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee on Monday, 27 May 2013, at page 82.[2]

I received many documents [PDF] already released to Brendan Molloy, with the addition of a slide show from the FSE Forum, 18 December 2012 on s313 blocking, as well as some scans of articles from Delimiter and the SMH.

Also the breadth of departments and agencies that have been debriefed on s313 is revealed with the following participating in the AGD/DBCDE convened conference:

  • Department of Immigration and Citizenship (IMMI)
  • Attorney Generals Department (AGD)
  • Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
  • Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
  • Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
  • Australian Crime Commission (ACC)
  • Australian Federal Police (AFP)
  • Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBDCE)
  • Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
  • Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
  • Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)

Quite a few documents were refused access, because they’d prejudice the operation of ASIC if they were to be released, or would compromise the investigative/detective/preventative operations of ASIC if they were to be released. That will be appealed in due course.

What is perhaps more troubling is the documents that weren’t uncovered, because they didn’t exist. Policy or protocol statements. Government agencies have the authority and power vested in them by virtue of s313 to block access to huge slabs of the Internet – yet have no guidance or policy statements on how that power should be executed. Troubling.

AFP Denies Access to Social Media Surveillance Documents

 

A little while ago (5 months ago) I made a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the following documents.

(a) Documents, reports, memoranda or policy statements not already made publicly available, regarding the use of social media or social networking sites in formal police inquiries, surveillance and investigation.

(b) Documents not already made publicly available detailing any formal or informal co-operative arrangements between law enforcement agencies and any such social networking sites, detailing prices and/or procedures for such agencies seeking access to information or details regarding subscribers to those services.

It is without a doubt that there is a public interest and democratic imperative that such information be released. Internet users have a right to understand and be made aware of what information is being collected, under what circumstances and under what arrangements that information is being collected or relayed, and who has access to that information.

There were some 23 documents found to have existed within the AFP, that detailed the arrangements between the organisation and other social media orgs, namely Google/Youtube, Skype, Yahoo, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Access to these files and documents was denied completely — it would damage the international relations of the Commonwealth, in that the documents have been provided to the AFP by foreign governments, and in addition any release would prejudice the investigative, preventative and detective operations of the AFP.

It’s obviously not the case that revealing the broad overarching relationships and arrangements between the AFP and social media orgs would impact to the great detriment the AFP are espousing in their correspondence, the US Courts have compelled the release of similar documents sought in FOIA requests by the EFF.

There are extremely novel ways in which policing organisations are assessing the large amounts of data they are retrieving from social media organisations, for instance through the mapping of associations which have huge implications for the privacy of citizens and users, and we should be able to understand how enforcement organisations are using that data, and for how long it is stored.

So off I go to the OAIC…again.

Like Pulling Teeth

 

Recently, I made a request for access to the Attorney-Generals Department for draft legislation which was refused because it would not be in the public interest to release such information. It was covered fairly comprehensively by Delimiter & The Sydney Morning Herald, the refusal to release advice, preparatory materials and other information was roundly condemned. Similar efforts to make material available by the Australian Greens, strengthened by their access to parliamentary processes were shut down as the major parties colluded to shut down access.

Now begins the long process of asking for a review via the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner(OAIC), and fighting for the documentation to be released [PR]. The text of the appeal is below. I’m informed by the OAIC that there is a huge backlog of appeals for review, meaning it could be months before the process even begins and a case officer is assigned.

This is a situation the Attorney General’s Department is fully aware of. Any request for internal review, would surely fail, simply because of the organisational confirmation bias and they know there is significant lag at the OAIC. The AGD are fully aware of the political sensitivity of the issue and the legislative changes they’ve sought, but are gaming the freedom of information process to strategically delay or preclude public scrutiny and debate. The process of actually bringing government bureaucracies into the 21st century, and acting in accordance with platitudes of ‘Open Government’ really is like pulling teeth.

 

“Fuck you, this is my culture.” — Amelia Anderstotter

Amelia shows her brilliance in this moving speech to the Internet Governance Forum, in Baku, Azerbaijan. Well worth having a read/listen to.

Amelia’s speech in the opening of Internet Governance Forum, Baku 2012

AMELIA ANDERSDOTTER:  Thank you, Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, participants of the Internet Governance Forum 2012.  My name is Amelia Andersdotter.  I am a member of the European Parliament on behalf of the Swedish Piratpartiet since December 2011.  I am mindful of the fact that I am one of only two women speaking in the opening session.  Also, I am probably the youngest person speaking.  I am only 25 years old.

The Piratpartiet wants to change the legislative framework for communication, interaction, innovation and culture.  We formed around the idea that communication technologies and culture present fantastic ways of building broad global communities.

We want interactions, social, cultural and economical to be determined and under the control of the people interacting.

When information, communication and culture can be freely accessible and used, which on the internet is basically always the case, this should be allowed and any exceptions or deviations to that general rule must be kept exceptional.

Unfortunately, laws at both nation state level and the international level are very ill‑equipped to achieve these goals.  Direct interventions by nation states into communication and cultural flows of their citizens are ubiquitous in the world.

More insidious are the restrictions on communications imposed on users by private network operators or intellectual property rights holders.  We hear words like “freedom of speech” and “Human Rights must be respected online” but actually so far very few top political figures in the world have acknowledged, or are willing to acknowledge, that this will require regulatory intervention on some private sectors and also letting go of some of the regulatory hinders that we’re currently putting in place to block communications between people.

It is clear to me both at the personal and at the political level that we need to fundamentally reconsider our approach to communication.  We need communication to be open and accessible.  This is how we make friendships, it is how we make societies, it is how we form words.

The control over communities and the ability to shape them must be with the communities themselves.  Infrastructure must be regulated to enable that ability and such autonomy.

The raw material for cultural identities, the culture itself, must be made more accessible than is currently the case.  Copyright is not only an untimely instrument for the 21st century, it is doing active harm to culture and to communities around the world.

During one of my travels this summer I met a young man who told me with a straight face that he liked open torrent trackers because he wants to be able to see the unpopular files.  I want to see the unpopular files.  I want to see the unpopular torrents and I want to live in a world where a social network, a community on its own initiative preserves the cultural wealth through the spontaneous contribution of all its members.  All of the changes that are needed in our laws to ensure that these communities can exist must be undertaken and now.

To all of you here and to all of the Governments and to the public officials and lobbyists that haven’t been able to bring themselves to support these actually very extensive reforms that are necessary for these places and creative communities to exist, I would like to paraphrase George Michael from I think 1992, “fuck you, this is my culture and if copyright or telecommunications operators are standing in the way, I think they should go.”  Thank you.