Tag: Privacy

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.

It really is just a bit of history repeating…

A little while ago, Matt Dawes from the Australian Digital Alliance, an NGO whose membership largely consists of libraries and museums, wrote a piece published by IT News discussing the cyclical behaviour of established industry when disruptive technology threatens, or seems to threaten a particular business model.

One has only to look to history to confirm this almost automatic response of the established/dominant industry looking to preserve the status quo — from the menace of mechanical music that threatened the weakening of the national throat and chest, the savagery and ravages of the photocopier that would destroy academic publishing, Japanese VCRs that would obliterate free to air television, home taping that would kill music and digital music and culture that dooms all media, condemns all art to amateurish mediocrity. New technology creates new paradigms, markets and new regulations.

Inevitably, opportunities present themselves and innovative industry will adapt to the new technology, or like is the natural order, outdated modes will perish — regardless of how many looms you destroy, or shearing sheds you burn down. With each bout of feverish hysteria however, established industry has demanded and sometimes gained extensions to the statutory monopoly granted by the state — all which eat into freedom and accessibility of culture, knowledge and information.

It’s a great article, but curiously, and to a little bemusement, Dawes concludes that change must occur, lest support for radicals like the Pirate Party entrenches itself. Language usually reserved for terrorist organisations or revolutionaries.

It’s a little perplexing, because after all, one would think that the public library movement are very similar in their goals to the Pirate movement — to make access to culture equitable, to enable the free flow of information that benefits society. I would go as far as to say that a good deal of the philosophy that underpins that movement, underpins ours — they, along with groups like the EFF, the EFA and FFII are the foundations and root of the Pirate Party. Librarians have always been strong advocates against censorship, and for the free flow of information — opposing CIPA in the US, opposing the ALP’s Internet censorship platform in Australia. In the US, there was even an open support for Napster — non-commercial file sharing is a completely legitimate means by which to transfer culture, information and knowledge. So just how radical is the Pirate Party relative to this understanding? Are they also radicals?

“They’ve got their radical factions, like the Ruby Ridge or Waco types who want to share all content for free.”

Judith Platt, Association of American Publishers

There is a tension between copyright and the freedom of expression — borne from censorship and control, copyright works to impede the flow of information. In a digital paradigm, laws drafted for an analogue paradigm no longer function as they should, and represent a dangerous threat to privacy, and thus human dignity. 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 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 has shifted. It is time to change the law. This is a central plank of our policy. It’s not at all radical — its pragmatic, and considered. The radicals are in the WhiteHouse, declaring ‘piracy is flat, unadulterated theft’, negotiating opaque agreements, policy laundering and circumventing the democratic process that protect lazy incumbents with their statutory privilege.

Submission to the Privacy Inquiry

The Senate is currently holding a Senate Inquiry into ‘The adequacy of protections for the privacy of Australians online‘ — we submitted a quick document outlining some of our concerns regarding privacy, and the perception of it amongst younger persons, and more specifically some issues around data retention, which the Attorney General has been making enquiries about. We really didn’t have enough time to go through everything we wanted to raise, or properly elaborate on our points, only we hope that our submission helps the committee in their deliberations.

The document can be found here (PDF) Unfortunately there weren’t that many submissions, which is very disappointing.

Thanks to Brendan, Frew, Steve and Stefan for their help.

Cloud Security

Interesting story today in the AFR today (paywall I’m afraid) by Rachael Bolton regarding the legal complications and dangers inherent in the ‘cloud’, and the alleged complacency with which Australian firms have embraced cloud computing:

Mark Vincent of information technology law firm Truman Hoyle says many companies in Australia were not taking the security threat of offshore hosting seriously enough. According to Mr Vincent, “the biggest Australian organisations – the banks, the telcos, the governments – have the money and resources to think through all the aspects of what’s being served up to them and, quite rightly, will insist their data resides in Australia.” However, as Mr Vincent continues, smaller companies are not in the same position of power and “will often be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it-product.” Mr Vincent also warns that any company registered in the US is subject to the Patriot Act, even Australian incorporated subsidiaries of US companies such as Microsoft and Google. [Italics Added]

Cloud-based services have been openly advocated by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s group executive of operations and technology, Michael Harte; while Westpac Banking Corp chief information officer Bob McKinnon has said that its cloud computing strategy would demand that all data be housed on Australian soil.

Not surprising that Jeff Bullwinkel from Microsoft said the claims of complacency were overstated, and exposure to the Patriot Act exaggerated. Quite a few relatively complex legal issues in the cloud.

© 2017 Rodney Serkowski

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