September 2011

S M T W T F S
    123
4 5678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930 

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
hasimir: (Default)
Monday, September 5th, 2011 02:38 pm

Last week the complete unredacted diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks last year were revealed to the world following a series of events involving WikiLeaks, the Guardian and possibly others. There has been much finger pointing regarding who is to ultimately blame for this, which is essentially pointless. The deed is done and the information is out. A couple of days later WikiLeaks, under the direction of Julian Assange, elected to update their Cablegate site with the unredacted data and provide a full mirror archive [torrent] and PostgreSQL database copy [torrent].

Already there are interesting revelations being brought to international attention by the latest data releases. There are also very valid concerns regarding the safety of intelligence sources, victims of crime and political dissidents who are identified in the cables. Amongst these have been the revelation that one or more cables identify current Australian intelligence officers, as reported in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Last Friday a statement [PDF] was made by Robert McClelland, the Australian Attorney-General, regarding this fact and confirming that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), along with other agencies, were reviewing the material. Mr. McLelland reiterated that Section 92 of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (ASIO Act) makes it a crime to “publish or cause to be published in a newspaper or other publication, or by radio broadcast or television, or otherwise make public, any matter stating, or from which it could reasonably be inferred, that a person having a particular name or otherwise identified, or a person residing at a particular address, is an officer (not including the Director-General), employee or agent of the Organisation or is in any way connected with such an officer, employee or agent or, subject to subsection (1B), is a former officer (not including a former Director-General), employee or agent of the Organisation or is in any way connected with such a former officer, employee or agent.” That second part is obviously aimed at protecting the families of ASIO employees, while subsection 1B deals with exceptions where former officers have consented to their previous employment being made public.

This has led to speculation that Julian Assange could face prosecution under Section 92 of the ASIO Act. There may be the possibility of additional charges relating to officers of other Australian agencies, such as the Office of National Assessments (ONA) or the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS). In adition to the cable referred to by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald there is at least one cable which lists the names of a number of senior ONA analysts and there may be more buried amongst the quarter of a million cables.

One of the problems facing any Australian prosecution in this matter will be whether or not charges can be laid based on the sequence of events. The initial revelations of the complete data came from a GPG encrypted file which had been available online via BitTorrent for several months and which was decrypted using a passphrase published by the Guardian. Each on its own could not reveal the information, they had to be used together to obtain the data. If charges were to be laid related to that, who would be charged? Julian Assange for creating the encrypted file? Another WikiLeaks staffer for putting it on BitTorrent? David Leigh and Luke Harding at the Guardian for publishing the decryption passphrase in WikiLeaks: Inside Jullian Assange’s War on Secrecy? John Young at Cryptome for providing the decrypted CSV file? Raymond Hill at Cablegate Search for using that data in his online database? Others?

That’s just dealing with the initial release of the data. The next question is whether or not Julian Assange or others involved with WikiLeaks can be charged for effectively republishing the data after it has already been decrypted by others? No doubt this is something which Australian Commonwealth prosecuters will consider following the reviews of the diplomatic cables being conducted by ASIO and others.

On Sunday the Attorney-General followed the national security theme with a statement [PDF] announcing a new national security awareness campaign promoting the National Security Hotline (NSH). The NSH was introduced in 2002 by the Howard Government and the initial advertising campaign in 2003 featured much derided fridge magnets for every household.

What is unclear about the latest NSH advertising campaign is whether it was already planned, whether or not it is in response to or accelerated due to the release of the unredacted cables or whether it is part of a push to turn public opinion against WikiLeaks. When the cables were being dribbled out with effort taken to redact information that could identify people at risk of violence or retaliation it was difficult for many people to take the government’s objection too seriously. The complete release last week changes that scenario completely and the publication has been condemned by the traditional media organisations, which had previously worked with WikiLeaks to redact and publish the cables. It is possible that the Attorney-General’s department views an elevation of national security in the public consciousness will make it easier for people to draw the conclusion that the cable publication and, by extension, WikiLeaks is to be condemned.

Regardless of one’s opinions of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, either for or against, the fact is that the facility to provide a platform for the global release of sensitive material has been a major change for both national and international politics. It has shifted the concentration of power in ways which governments are not used to. They are beginning to learn a similar lesson to that of the media: that the people formerly known as the audience are able to actively engage to a greater extent than previously possible. Not only are people able to do this, but they actually do it.

As I type this there are people around the globe pouring through the released cables looking for interesting information. Some of the results are published by traditional media outlets, some are blogged about and some are included in the running commentary on Twitter or other social media networks. Most people refer to the latter as crowd-sourcing, but governments and intelligence agencies refer to it as open source intelligence. It is another example of ordinary citizens being able to level a playing field which has previously been restricted to governments, intelligence agencies, law enforcement and corporations with the budgets necessary to obtain and mine vast amounts of data. This shift is, unsurprisingly, of real concern to those organisations which have traditionally maintained a monopoly on information.

As a consequence, moves by governments around the world to attempt to limit or discourage this power shift are to be expected. Where that coincides with existing national security legislation, such as that protecting intelligence officers here in Australia, a link is able to be drawn between the power shift and a subtext of potential sedition. It’s not quite accusing anyone engaged in any aspect of the shift in power and sharing (versus control) of information of treason, but it is a manner of presenting opposition to people doing so as in the interests of national security. It is a subtle and dangerous approach to the changing nature of politics and intelligence, which could backfire. Yet it is one which will be pursued by any government seeking to maintain a concentration of power; that being, all of them.

It also won’t work, not completely, that genie is well and truly out of the bottle. The governments, intelligence agencies, law enforcement and corporations already know this; their game is now to limit anything which they see as potentially damaging. The extent of their success or failure in this will only become apparent over time; not just in relation to the various releases from WikiLeaks, but also information which will be released by other sources and organisations in the future.

There are new players in the Great Game of international politics, players who were previously viewed almost entirely as pawns. It will be very interesting to see how it plays out as the power and the rules shift.

Originally published at Organised Adversary. Please leave any comments there.

hasimir: (Default)
Friday, June 3rd, 2011 07:56 am

Six months ago Victoria went to the polls and elected a Liberal-National Coalition government, led by Ted Baillieu, with a (slim) majority in both houses of parliament. After more than a decade of Labor government, this was not entirely unexpected. Due to electoral reforms made by the previous Labor government, there will be another three and a half years before another election will be held.

The change in government has led to a drastic change in the tone of governance in Victoria. Three of the changes which particularly illustrate this are a review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 with a possible result of watering down or even repealing the Act, on the spot fines for “indecent” language and the controversial introduction of legalising discrimination for groups not wishing to employ, service or otherwise interact with individuals with life styles or traits they object to. That last one essentially translates to: some Christian organisations want support for prejudice against single mothers, non-believers, people of different faiths, divorced people and, of course, the entire LGBTI community.

Those aren’t the only things on the agenda, there are assorted other law-and-order policies currently being pushed by Baillieu and Attorney-General Robert Clark, including mandatory sentencing for sixteen and seventeen year-old violent offenders. Still, this is only six months into a four year term. It is clear that Baillieu and Clark are aiming for significant changes to Victoria’s legislative powers before the voters have a chance to oppose them. Perhaps this would be more understandable if the policies presented to the public by the Coalition had included this significant law-and-order focus; but, with the exception of the fairly standard comments about recruiting more police, this was not the case.

It is clear that the Baillieu-Clark agenda, beginning with the reduced emphasis on human rights, is to forge a far more conservative and controlled Victoria. The first step is to reduce the rights previously granted to Victorians. The second step is to introduce law-and-order policies which may appeal to some sections of the community without appearing too controlling to the general punter, but which actually undermine civil liberties significantly. The third step is to provide greater power to certain interest groups at the expense of minorities.

So what can we expect in the future? I expect there will be considerably more similar action in the future. Most likely this will include anti-association legislation, which is normally labelled as “anti-bikie” legislation and which has been adopted in South Australia and New South Wales. Whenever politicians and police discuss legislation like this they are careful to focus on one section of the community, in this case “criminal organisations” and motorcycle clubs, but the reality is that the legislation is never so specific and can be used against any organisation or group of people. Currently the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act prevents such anti-association legislation from being passed in Victoria, but a repeal of that Act or reduction in its scope may open this door.

No doubt there will be more than this in just the next year or two, given the changes pushed in just the last six months. By the time of the next election in November 2014, the changes in Victoria could be tremendous.

Originally published at Organised Adversary. Please leave any comments there.

hasimir: (Default)
Saturday, February 12th, 2011 09:35 pm

Ross Fitzgerald has an interesting piece in The Australian today on the current state of censorship in Australia; in particular regarding the four inquiries into the classification system. It is definitely worth reading.

Australia’s current laws governing censorship and classification are archaic and byzantine; more often reflecting the views of conservative religious groups than the general populace. Reading some of the comprehensive material on Australian censorship on Irene Graham’s website, Libertus, provides an idea of the extent of this and the conflicts between the federal and state classification systems.

Senator Guy Barnett from Tasmania, the apparent spiritual successor to the notorious Brian Harridine when it comes to censorship, is the driving force behind the current Senate Inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme. The terms of reference for this inquiry indicate a review which will lean towards a conservative finding. For example, one of the earliest points (c), refers to enforcement and reports to law enforcement. Another point (f), refers to “the impact of X18+ films, including their role in the sexual abuse of children;” rather than simply “the impact of X18+ films;” that is what is known as a leading statement. This inquiry wants submissions which cater to the assumptions of Senator Barnett and the pro-censorship lobby, instead of representing the views of all Australians. Still another point (e) is aimed at applying rigorous censorship legislation to all content, including art, presumably in response to the debacle following the suppression of Bill Henson’s exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in 2008. The inquiry is aimed at applying censorship to outdoor advertising (h), music videos (i), song lyrics (j), television (l), the Internet (l) and mobile devices (m), amongst other areas not previously covered or covered by a specific inquiry (o).

The major classification review, though, is the Australian Law Reform Commission‘s National Classification Review, which was announced on the 21st of December last year by the Attorney-General and the Minister for Home Affairs. This one is unlikely to be completed before 2014 and seeks to be the most comprehensive review of Australia’s classification systems in decades.

Meanwhile, Senator Stephen Conroy called for a review of Measures to increase accountability and transparency for Refused Classification material, which he often disingenuously refers to as entirely “illegal material,” as a precursor to introducing mandatory Internet censorship legislation. There may be another review of Refused Classification called for by Senator Conroy this year, following the backlash against the proposed Internet filtering regime during last year’s federal election. This is in addition to his Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s Convergence Review.

The Senate Inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme is due to report on the 30th of June and the deadline for submissions is the 4th of March. The Measures to increase accountability and transparency for Refused Classification material review closed its submission date last year. The close of submissions for the Convergence Review was the 28th of January. While dates for the ALRC’s National Classification Review and Senator Conroy’s second Refused Classification review are presently unavailable.

This is all, of course, in addition to the Attorney-General’s inquiries into An R18+ Classification for Computer Games, the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Assessments and Advertising) Act 2008, the Classification (Authorised Television Series Assessor Scheme) Determination 2008, the Classification (Advertising of Unclassified Films and Computer Games Scheme) Determination 2009 and other aspects of Classification policy.

A citizen could be forgiven for thinking that the complexity and number of the reviews was aimed at stifling opposition to the agenda of censorship which currently runs rampant through Australian politics.

Most political parties in Australia have varying degrees of policy in favour of censorship, of which the most well known is the Australian Labor Party’s mandatory Internet filter. Of the currently registered parties opposing censorship, there is only the Australian Sex Party. The fledgling Pirate Party Australia is still seeking to join the fray. Like the Sex Party before it, the Pirate Party has encountered some difficulties with the registration process. Although not as anti-censorship on a policy level as the Sex Party or the Pirate Party, which both promote civil liberties in Australia, the Australian Greens have been vocal in their opposition to Internet censorship. The work of Senator Scott Ludlum has been considerable in this area.

One of the reasons why Australia has been able to maintain a thorough regime of censorship in comparison to most, if not all, other liberal democracies in the world is due to the lack of constitutionally guaranteed rights. There is no guarantee to freedom of speech, privacy or other rights which are frequently taken for granted in other countries. The only constitutional guarantee is that there not be a state sanctioned religion. There is privacy legislation and there have been High Court rulings on an implied right to political speech as necessary for a free and functioning democracy, but these things can be overturned by passing relevant legislation to do so.

Australia has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but made sure to include exceptions on Article 19. Even so, that and similar exceptions did not prevent the Australia’s treaty obligations from being used to overturn Tasmania’s anti-homosexuality legislation in the 1990s. It also hasn’t prevented the the United Nations Human Rights Council from publishing a draft review of Australia’s need for continued work to improve human rights for Australians, especially indigenous Australians and women. A number of countries have recommended constitutional reform, possibly including a Bill of Rights, in particular: Sweden, Hungary, Russia, Germany, Timor-Leste, Bosnia and Herzegovina. There were additional calls for other strengthening of human rights and civil liberties, including Australia signing and ratifying several treaties, which requires appropriate changes to legislation to meet the requirements of those treaties.

There’s clearly a long way to go in Australia on addressing issues of general human rights and civil liberties, let alone the more specific issue of censorship. One thing to remember, though, wide ranging censorship and a lack of freedom of expression makes the work on other human rights issues far more difficult.

Originally published at Organised Adversary. Please leave any comments there.