Category: Activism (page 1 of 2)

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.

 

Australia’s Last Chance to Defeat ACTA

This article has been published at the ABC.

Today we saw thousands take to the streets in Poland in what has become an ongoing protest, the European Parliament’s rapporteur of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement resign in disgust at the ACTA charade, the exclusionary and opaque process. We also saw the passing of what is possibly the last opportunity for Australians to stop the ACTA agreement cementing the expansive changes to laws in Australia imposed via the Australian United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA).

There is some debate as to whether there will be any substantive change for Australia, i.e. are we going to have to change our laws? It certainly cements the already draconian laws we have, providing an environment for stricter enforcement and for an expansion of an already bad system, but that is not the biggest issue with ACTA.

The biggest issue is the secrecy in which the agreement was forged. The exclusion of civil society, consumer and civil liberties groups in formative stages, where a belligerent industry intent on disingenuously conflating issues like file sharing with counterfeiting were given open and unfettered access.

ACTA is an example of legislative negligence and a total disregard for evidence in policy making in Australia. Despite the Productivity Commission proclaiming that Australia should be seeking to exclude IP from bilateral and regional trade negotiations because of the obviously damaging changes to Australian law imposed by the AUSFTA, here is DFAT negotiating an agreement that entrenches those bad laws, just as it continues to include those bad laws in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). When queried, there is no study or economic assessment that supports the expansion or stricter enforcement of copyright and patents in Australia, except of course for untrustworthy industry research, manufactured to elicit legislative change by deception.

These sentiments, and others, were expressed in the Pirate Party’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. Although the due date has passed, Committee Secretaries are usually more than willing to accept late submissions. Make noise.

 

Props should go to @OlbrychtPalmer, @piecritic and @akfru for their work in the submission.

Letting in the sunlight…

The following documents were received from the Attorney-General’s Department under the Freedom of Information Act (1982). They pertain to a secret meeting between copyright industry lobbyists and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Much of this information has not been previously made publicly available. All information made accessible to me is now publicly available.

Analysis will follow in time. Those that know, understand my current personal situation precludes me from committing time to commenting and analysing the issue. For all comments, I’d recommend contacting Pirate Party Australia as I am informed they will now analyse the documents.

UPDATE: Renai Le May at Delimiter  has quickly picked up on one of the central themes of the documents – consumers were and continue to be excluded from the process. This exclusionary approach is standard practice for the Attorney-General’s Department.

UPDATE 2: Mozart has come straight to the point — what does transparency and open government look like in modern Australia?

UPDATE 3: Michael Lee at ZDNet has a good summary of the issues and themes within the released documents.

 

Lack of Transparency & Inclusion Raises Questions About Integrity of Democratic Process

 

On the August 24, The Australian revealed that the Attorney General’s Department was convening meetings with stakeholders — except that it had excluded one very important group. You.

The copyright lobby and its many faces and fronts are being given an audience with the Attorney General’s Department and platform on which to pressure ISPs into an industry code for ‘dealing’ with file sharers. Of course, we know what that means – the termination of access on their accusation.

What is very worrying, is that this is being conducted behind closed doors and that the government seems very willing to place the legislative gun to the head of service providers. If there is one thing that the government is transparent about, it is that it will pull that trigger, in attempting to enforce an antiquated monopoly mechanism, with no regard to clear issues with human rights and civil liberties.

We cannot rely on ISPs to protect consumers — when push comes to shove, they will capitulate, so it is important that civil society and political groups and parties all sing the same song — termination, suspension or limitation of access to the Internet for allegations of copyright infringement, or even breaches, are not acceptable or proportional.

Below is a letter sent to the Secretary of the Attorney General’s Department, Mr Wilkins.

Dear Mr. Wilkins,

I write to you seeking clarification of certain issues raised in an article authored by Andrew Colley, published in The Australian on August 24, 2011 entitled ‘A-G in call for talks on online piracy’.[1]

The article cites a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Department indicating that a meeting had been convened in order to garner the differing positions, need and scope of any governmental intervention.

It is very concerning that there has been no public mention of the meeting convened between stakeholders and that amongst the published list of invited participants there appears to be no representation from consumer organisations or civil society – in fact, the meeting appears to be convened with the specific intention to exclude these stakeholders.

It is even more concerning that organisations like the Australian Content Industry Group, and the dubious studies they have commissioned, which have subsequently been used by the Attorney General as justification for the policy direction of the Australian Government[2] and only released by the organisation after Freedom of Information requests were made by myself to the department, are being given unfettered access, facilitated by the Attorney General’s department to lobby government and industry for the development of an industry code, or to effect legislative changes.

The willingness of government ministers and the Attorney General to so readily facilitate the development of disconnection mechanisms for alleged copyright infringement like those operating in New Zealand, the UK or France, is worrying.

The termination or limitation of access to the Internet on the grounds of violation of intellectual property laws, in this case, copyright, is completely disproportionate, ineffective and a violation of human rights.

That this is done without the oversight or inclusion of civil society in an open forum raises questions regarding the integrity of the democratic process and the willingness of the government to engage and listen to alternative perspectives, economic analysis and academic study.

It is imperative that the government acts in the interest of Australian citizens, recognising the importance of Internet access, protecting the rights of Australian citizens to seek and impart information, knowledge and culture, and works to safeguard due process and fundamental rights. It can do this by being transparent and open in its decision-making and policy development process.

Kind Regards,

Rodney Serkowski

An Open Letter to the German Ambassador

The following is an open letter to his Excellency Dr. Michael Witter, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Government in Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Nauru with regards to the so called #servergate scandal that has erupted overnight in Germany.

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

I write to you with regard to events that have transpired on Friday, the gravity of which have led me to question the democratic integrity of the Federal Republic of Germany.

On Friday morning, May 20, German law enforcement officers seized the information technology and communications infrastructure of the Piratenpartei, a legal and officially recognised political party. The seizures have transpired irrespective of the fact that the Party is not suspected of any illegal activity. Media reports suggest that the seizures have occurred as a result of investigations by the French law enforcement organisations into an alleged distributed denial of service attack, and event which itself occurred several months prior to the seizure. French investigators are of the opinion that one of the servers, which provides collaborative services and tools that may be used by the general public, may have been used by an individual or individuals in the planning of the alleged attack. Indeed, it should be noted, that we as a party also use services provided by the Piratenpartei which were affected by these seizures.

German law enforcement officials have not however, seized only the server in question, but instead all servers used by the Piratenpartei for communication and organisation.

The gravity of this situation in where a legal and officially recognised political organisation is paralysed in itself is deeply troubling. It is however compounded by the fact that this event has transpired two days prior to elections which are being held in the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, in which the Piratenpartei is participating.

The seizure of essential campaign organisation and planning infrastructure is expected to severely hamper and paralyse the electoral campaign of the Party. Both the timing, in its proximity to the election in the State of Bremen in relation to the investigation of an event that transpired some months ago, and the sheer enormity of the seizure of the entire organisational and planning infrastructure, where only a small amount of data located on a single server is required, raise significant concerns about the political impartiality of German law enforcement officials and the sanctity of democratic institutions and processes.

I write to you to pose the following questions: will an inquiry be held regarding the actions of German law enforcement officials, with regards to their proportionality and whether they have interfered with the rights afforded under Article 21 on the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany?

What undertakings will the government of Germany take to ensure that such interference in the political process does not occur again? I thank you for your time, and look forward to your response.

Blog Safely With Pirate.is

The Washington Pirate Party has launched ‘pirate.is‘ a blogging service not unlike any other, based on WordPress, with one important distinction — it takes advantage of the legal framework and protections provided by the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative by being hosted in Iceland, that provides:

 

 

— Whistle-blower protection
— Source protection
— Source-journalist communications protection
— Limiting prior restraint
— Protection of intermediaries (ISPs)
— Protection from “libel tourism” and other extrajudicial abuses
— Statute of limitations on publishing liabilities
— Process protections

This framework is something that almost all Pirate Parties, including ours, advocate at a national level.

Guiding Principles For Upcoming Copyright Reforms

We’ve put together some principles that we’re asking the law and policy makers to consider in the inevitable legislative responses to the Roadshow v iiNet battle that will inevitably go to the High Court.

Access is a right. The Internet should be considered a utility, and access should be considered a fundamental right. The government’s commitment to the construction of the National Broadband Network signals that it is every citizen’s right to have access to an Internet connection. Disconnecting a customer from an ISP not only affects the user found sharing, but all other occupants of the premises, making the punishment fundamentally unjust.

Due process must be observed. Economically, socially and culturally, Australian citizens have become reliant on the Internet in the conduct of their daily affairs. It has become a civic space, that allows for political discourse, and is increasingly important for social engagement with friends and loved ones. Extra-judicial termination, suspension or interference is not reasonable, it is a violation of fundamental human rights.

Privacy must be respected. The privacy of communication is a fundamental right that underpins human dignity and is essential in any democratic framework. Communications on the Internet should be considered akin to letters sent through the postal service — their contents should be protected by the law from interception, monitoring or inspection.

Sharing is legitimate. The non-commercial sharing of information, culture and information is a legitimate form of cultural participation. Economically and culturally, file sharing is positive. The marginalisation and repression of Australians sharing culture, information and knowledge must be stopped.

Structural reform is necessary. There is a genuine need of structural reform. It is difficult, if not impossible to ask industry to innovate where the law does not permit it. Concessions extracted from previous copyright panics have created structural barriers to reform and innovation of new business models. Whilst some will adapt, incumbent organisations will pursue the maintenance of their monopoly if the law, and politicians permit and enable it. Society’s perception of how information and culture regulation should occur, as well as its expectations of justice, has shifted.

All stakeholders must be represented. Any government facilitated industry agreement or code must be crafted in a transparent and inclusive manner allowing consumer groups and civil society to be adequately represented so that any potential agreement respects the interests and civil liberties of Internet users and artists.

Reasonable I think, whether they’ll be listened to is unknown. We’ll be asking for endorsement/review from civil society and other political parties who’ll hopefully embrace it.

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