94% of Australians do not read all privacy policies that apply to them – and that’s rational behaviour



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It would take the average person 244 hours per year (6 working weeks) to read all privacy policies that apply to them.
Shutterstock

Katharine Kemp, UNSW

Australians are agreeing to privacy policies they are not comfortable with and would like companies only to collect data that is essential for the delivery of their service. That’s according to new, nation-wide research on consumer attitudes to privacy policies released by the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) today.

These findings are particularly important since the government’s announcement last week that it plans to implement “open banking” (which gives consumers better access to and control over their banking data) as the first stage of the proposed “consumer data right” from July 2019.




Read more:
How not to agree to clean public toilets when you accept any online terms and conditions


Consumer advocates argue that existing privacy regulation in Australia needs to be strengthened before this new regime is implemented. In many cases, they say, consumers are not truly providing their “informed consent” to current uses of their personal information.

While some blame consumers for failing to read privacy policies, I argue that not reading is often rational behaviour under the current consent model. We need improved standards for consent under our Privacy Act as a first step in improving data protection.

Australians are not reading privacy policies

Under the Privacy Act, in many cases, the collection, use or disclosure of personal information is justified by the individual’s consent. This is consistent with the “notice and choice” model for privacy regulation: we receive notice of the proposed treatment of our information and we have a choice about whether to accept.

But according to the CPRC Report, most Australians (94%) do not read all privacy policies that apply to them. While some suggest this is because we don’t care about our privacy, there are four good reasons why people who do care about their privacy don’t read all privacy policies.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/hJXfh/1/

We don’t have enough time

There are many privacy policies that apply to each of us and most are lengthy. But could we read them all if we cared enough?

According to international research, it would take the average person 244 hours per year (six working weeks) to read all privacy policies that apply to them, not including the time it would take to check websites for changes to these policies. This would be an impossible task for most working adults.

Under our current law, if you don’t have time to read the thousands of words in the policy, your consent can be implied by your continued use of the website which provides a link to that policy.

We can’t understand them

According to the CPRC, one of the reasons users typically do not read policies is that they are difficult to comprehend.

Very often these policies lead with feel-good assurances “We care about your privacy”, and leave more concerning matters to be discovered later in vague, open-ended terms, such as:

…we may collect your personal information for research, marketing, for efficiency purposes…

In fact, the CPRC Report states around one in five Australians:

…wrongly believed that if a company had a Privacy Policy, it meant they would not share information with other websites or companies.




Read more:
Consent and ethics in Facebook’s emotional manipulation study


We can’t negotiate for better terms

We generally have no ability to negotiate about how much of our data the company will collect, and how it will use and disclose it.

According to the CPRC Report, most Australians want companies only to collect data that is essential for the delivery of their service (91%) and want options to opt out of data collection (95%).

However, our law allows companies to group into one consent various types and uses of our data. Some are essential to providing the service, such as your name and address for delivery, and some are not, such as disclosing your details to “business partners” for marketing research.

These terms are often presented in standard form, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. You either consent to everything or refrain from using the service.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/L7fPF/2/

We can’t avoid the service altogether

According to the CPRC, over two thirds of Australians say they have agreed to privacy terms with which they are not comfortable, most often because it is the only way to access the product or service in question.

In a 2017 report, the Productivity Commission expressed the view that:

… even in sectors where there are dominant firms, such as social media, consumers can choose whether or not to use the class of product or service at all, without adversely affecting their quality of life.

However, in many cases, we cannot simply walk away if we don’t like the privacy terms.

Schools, for example, may decide what apps parents must use to communicate about their children. Many jobs require people to have Facebook or other social media accounts. Lack of transparency and competition in privacy terms also means there is often little to choose between rival providers.

We need higher standards for consent

There is frequently no real notice and no real choice in how our personal data is used by companies.

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect on 25 May 2018, provides one model for improved consent. Under the GDPR, consent:

… should be given by a clear affirmative act establishing a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s agreement.




Read more:
You may be sick of worrying about online privacy, but ‘surveillance apathy’ is also a problem


The Privacy Act should be amended along these lines to set higher standards for consent, including that consent should be:

  • explicit and require action on the part of the customer – consent should not be implied by the mere use of a website or service and there should be no pre-ticked boxes. Privacy should be the default;

  • unbundled – individuals should be able to choose to consent only to the collection and use of data essential to the delivery of the service, with separate choices of whether to consent to additional collections and uses;

  • revocable – the individual should have the option to withdraw their consent in respect of future uses of their personal data at any time.

The ConversationWhile further improvements are needed, upgrading our standards for consent would be an important first step.

Katharine Kemp, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW, and Co-Leader, ‘Data as a Source of Market Power’ Research Stream of The Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Politics podcast: Chris Bowen on the budget and Labor’s policies


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Ahead of Tuesday’s budget that will unveil the goverment’s tax cut plans, the Coalition is painting Labor as the big taxing party, while the ALP is attacking the government’s push to cut company tax for big business. Meanwhile the Business Council of Australia is taking its message to the public with a grassroots campaign.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen tells The Conversation he accepts that big business will “lobby on their own path”. “Clearly we have a difference of view with the Business Council,” he says, though not with every member of it. “Some members of the Business Council say they don’t see the business tax cut as a business priority.”

The ConversationOn budget repair, Bowen he says that “getting back to budget balance is very, very important, and not just budget balance but a good healthy budget surplus of at least 1% of GDP.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We cannot rely morally on ‘deterrence’ to justify our harsh refugee policies



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Offshore detainees suffer deliberately inflicted harm from their incarceration.
AAP/Eoin Blackwell

Tony Coady, University of Melbourne

When debate about refugees ascends from slogan swapping (“stop the boats”, “bring them here”) to specific reasoning, there seems only one argument worth considering for the ignominious detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru and the refusal to ever settle any in Australia.

That argument, advanced by both the government and the opposition (occasionally in a less strident form), stems from deterrence. It’s worth considering the argument even as a handful of these detainees are resettled in the US or possibly other distant and politically ambiguous destinations.

Deterrence involves an action or policy designed to instil fear of the consequences of committing some other action. But there are considerations relevant to the assessment of deterrent measures, especially when those measures inflict pain, damage or harm on some to deter others.

One is the measures’ likely success. Another is their independent moral acceptability.

Another concern is the acceptability of the purpose for which deterrence is employed – that is to say, why is it good to stop the boats? This opens up too many questions to be dealt with here, so assume (what would otherwise be questioned) that the purpose is a good one – for example, stopping deaths at sea. It will rather be the morality of the means (deterrence) that will concern me.

First, the harm issue. It is clear the offshore detainees suffer deliberately inflicted harm from their incarceration. This is so even if we manage to suspend judgement on how extreme that harm is – something made even more difficult by a variety of dramatic and credible testimonies.

Even if detainees are not humiliated, beaten, raped, murdered, or had their health and education gravely neglected, they are effectively and indefinitely imprisoned and often separated from family and friends. This last is usually a profound human harm though less immediately palpable than some others.

As for success, there is room for debate since the associated policy of turning back the boats is already sufficient to deter future boat people and smugglers, or at least stop them landing here. If so, the infliction of serious harm on the refugees through indefinite detention is unnecessary and hence immoral.

In any case, even granting the success of extreme incarceration, there remains the fact that the efficiency of the policy to the desired deterrence outcomes does not justify “whatever it takes”. It may be that the most morally monstrous actions might work as deterrents but be unacceptable morally even to the most casual conscience.

Consider the suggestion we should have deterred further refugees from embarking for Australia by taking a selected group of mothers and children from the earlier arrivals by sea and publicly executing them.

This has the merit of almost certain success and avoiding the extravagant financial cost of offshore detention. But I believe this measure, whatever its success, would strike most Australians as morally repellent.

One reason for the dubious nature of severe deterrent measures is that the morality of deterrence is most at home when those harmed to deter others are guilty of some crime or offence themselves and when the harm is proportional to the offence. This is precisely how deterrence is offered as a (partial) defence of the legal imprisonment of offenders, or more dubiously of capital punishment.

Certain forms of guilt can lead to deprivation of rights, such as imprisonment, and this in turn allows that deprivation to function as a deterrent to others. But asylum seekers are not guilty of any legal or serious moral offence – merely, at most, of irregularity in entering the country.

In any case, execution would be disproportionate to such irregularity, especially when that irregularity is legitimised by international law.

Nor is the situation much changed if, instead of killing them, we had them publicly tortured.

Perhaps, aside from waterboarding or electric shocks, we might try more subtle tortures like separating parent from child, inducing despair by isolating refugees in demeaning conditions on remote islands with no hope of anything like a normal life, and ensuring inadequate access to life-saving medical treatment or educational improvement. And instead of a selected few, we could do it to a large number of those who had arrived seeking refuge from disaster.

We could endeavour to make this policy secretive but just public enough to make deterrence work, while softening the effect of any moral outrage at home by rejecting our responsibility and shifting it to the governmental authorities on those islands and a variety of largely unaccountable private security companies.

The ConversationAgain, this is morally repellent and impossible to justify ethically. But that’s more or less what Australia has been and is doing on Manus Island and Nauru. And that is not a morally permissible resort to deterrence.

Tony Coady, Professor of Philosophy, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from the Hill: Shorten targets hip-pocket pain, but prescriptions yet to come


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

For Bill Shorten, Tuesday’s National Press Club speech was the easy start to what could be a tougher year than 2017. The address had a popular “announceable” – a proposed National Integrity Commission – and it homed in on fertile electoral ground: cost-of-living pinches, flat wages, and high health insurance costs.

But it left a heap of gaps to be filled in on what precisely are Labor plans to ease the pressures many people are feeling, and questions about its ability to convince voters that it can in fact relieve them.

Politically, Shorten could hardly go wrong with the integrity commission, pitched to tapping into the epidemic of mistrust that’s corroding the political system.

Shorten was blunt: he didn’t know of any particular instances of corruption that are demanding address. It is about restoring “people’s faith in their representatives and the system”, restoring “trust, accountability and transparency in the public sector”.

In other words, the commission is an institutional response to what has become a hugely bad vibe in our democracy.

Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday left open the possibility of endorsing an integrity commission of some sort, while pointedly noting “obviously, in anything like that the devil will always be in the detail”.

Within his ranks there is resistance to doing something robust. Barnaby Joyce, for one, thinks it could unnecessarily restrict ministers. “You’ll be terrified to make a decision that’s different to your department,” he said, with perhaps revealing frankness.

For a long time the major parties did not believe that the objective circumstances required a federal ICAC. Now it is a matter of the public mood. And once Shorten decided to embrace the idea of a commission – probably with one eye on the looming Batman byelection, where the Greens pose an existential threat to the ALP – the government finds itself pushed towards doing the same.

But come election time, votes won’t turn on an integrity commission. They will turn on such issues as cost of living, discontent with flat wages, and health. The parties don’t need focus groups to tell them that, though no doubt the groups are sending the message.

As did Tuesday’s Essential poll (which had Labor leading 54-46% in two-party terms). The numbers show Shorten is playing to ALP’s strengths: 40% trust Labor most to handle industrial relations, compared to 27% who favour the Liberals; 39% trust Labor most to ensure the quality of Australia’s health system but only 28% nominate the Liberals.

People’s perception of a squeeze on their living costs is stark. Asked “in the last two years, do you think your and your household’s income has gone up more than the cost of living, fallen behind or stayed even with the cost of living”, 51% said fallen behind, 28% said stayed even, and 14% said gone up more.

On health, 83% agreed “the government should do more to keep private health insurance affordable”.

Shorten didn’t hold back on the problems. “The wages system is not delivering, and it’s not just cuts to penalty rates, or the exploitation of labour hire,” he said. “Enterprise bargaining is on life support.”

Workers needed pay rises. Labor would “put the bargaining back into enterprise bargaining”.

The minimum wage was no longer a “living wage”. “Our goal should be a real, living wage – effectively raising the pay of all Australians, particularly the 2.3 million in the award system.”

“Yes, we must always be mindful of the capacity of industry to pay. But let me make it clear: we need to fix the disconnect between wages and productivity.”

Much of the detail of how all this is to be done is yet to unfold. Labor has flagged that it would attack the ability of companies to unilaterally terminate agreements. It promises to restore Sunday penalty rates and have a national push to close the gender gap.

But if it wants to significantly raise the “living wage” that could be a big policy challenge and certainly lead to tensions with business, which was twitchy after Shorten’s speech.

Meanwhile medium-sized businesses (with turnovers of more than A$2 million and under A$50 million annually) are still on tenterhooks waiting for Labor to clarify what it will do with the company tax cuts already legislated for them. Shorten in the question-and-answer session said Labor would finalise its position after the budget. It was the first time he had spelled out this timetable.

On health, Labor knows that it can get people’s attention by empathising with their discontent about the rising cost of private insurance, but remains vague about how it would tackle the issue.

Shorten said he put the big operators on notice that “business as usual doesn’t work”.

“If you are getting a $6 billion subsidy from the taxpayer yet you’re making record profits, yet the prices are going up and the exclusions are going up, well that’s a problem.”

The opposition was working though “options” and would talk to the funds. Certainly there needed to be “better monitoring of exclusions”, he said.

Shorten’s reference to subsidies triggered some speculation that Labor might cut the rebate for private health insurance. This was ill-based and quickly quashed. After all, as Labor pointed out, if you’re talking about containing costs to consumers of private health cover, you wouldn’t be reducing the rebate.

The ConversationTurnbull will deliver his 2018 opening-salvo speech on Thursday. He has chosen to make it in regional Queensland rather than in Canberra, getting out of the beltway and bypassing the national media pack.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 29 September 2013 – The Slow Death of the Greens?


The federal election is over and the Coalition is now in government. Already there is a growing dissatisfaction with the new Abbott-led government over a wide-ranging series of issues including nepotism, asylum seeker policy, the environment, a lack of governance, etc. There is also continuing debate within the various opposition parties concerning their future direction, policies, etc. Yet for the Greens, the future is questionable, with some believing the party to be in serious decline – even among those within the party.

The link below is to an article reporting on the turmoil within the Greens party.

For more visit:
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/milnes-greens-marching-to-slow-death-20130928-2ulgp.html



Australian Politics: 9 July 2013


A lot has changed over the last couple of weeks in Australian politics. Pressure on the coalition is beginning to increase as the election slowly draws closer and as the government under Kevin Rudd claws back much lost ground and re-election begins to look a more and more viable prospect. ALP reform is increasingly a vote winner for the government and the link below is to an article that takes a closer look at the proposed reforms.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/08/kevin-rudd-bolster-labor-pms


After applying months of intense scrutiny to Peter Slipper and Craig Thompson concerning various alleged rorts, Opposition leader Tony Abbott is now facing his own travel rorts scandal for wrongly claimed travel expenses. Will Tony Abbott now do what he expected to be done concerning those he criticised opposite him? Unlikely I’d say. The link below is to an article reporting on the matter.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/09/tony-abbott-refusal-travel-expenses

Also of current interest is the climate change denial policies of the Coalition under Tony Abbott and the link below is to an article that takes a look at that.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/southern-crossroads/2013/jul/08/tony-abbott-climate-policy-australia

On a lighter note (perhaps), the link below is to an article that takes a look at the ‘tie’ in Australian politics.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/09/tie-colour-kevin-rudd

Then there is the size of the senate election voting ballot form…

Suspected Islamists Burn Down Two Homes in Ethiopia


Two thatched-grass structures belonged to evangelist who received threats.

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 21 (CDN) — A Christian near Ethiopia’s southern town of Moyale said suspected Islamic extremists on March 29 burned down his two thatched-grass homes.

Evangelist Wako Hanake of the Mekane Yesus Church told Compass he had been receiving anonymous messages warning him to stop converting Muslims to Christ. The Muslims who became Christians included several children.

“Inside the house were iron sheets and timber stored in preparation for putting up a permanent house,” said Hanake, who is in his late 30s. “I have lost everything.”

The incident in Tuka, five kilometers (nearly three miles) from Moyale in southern Ethiopia’s Oromia Region, happened while Hanake was away on an evangelistic trip. A neighbor said he and others rescued Hanake’s wife and children ages 8, 6 and 2.

“We had to rescue the wife with her three children who were inside one of the houses that the fire was already beginning to burn,” said the neighbor, who requested anonymity.

Church leaders said neighbors are still housing Hanake and his family.

“The family has lost everything, and they feel fearful for their lives,” said a local church leader. “We are doing all we can to provide clothing and food to them. We are appealing to all well wishers to support Hanake’s family.”

Hanake said he has reported the case to Moyale police.

“I hope the culprits will be found,” he said.

An area church leader who requested anonymity told Compass that Christians in Moyale are concerned that those in Tuka are especially vulnerable to a harsh environment in which religious rights are routinely violated.

“The Ethiopian constitution allows for religious tolerance,” said another area church leader, also under condition of anonymity, “but we are concerned that such ugly incidents like this might go unpunished. To date no action has been taken.”

Tuka village, on Ethiopia’s border with Kenya, is populated mainly by ethnic Oromo who are predominantly Muslim. The area Muslims restrict the preaching of non-Muslim faiths, in spite of provisions for religious freedom in Ethiopia’s constitution.

Hostility toward those spreading faiths different from Islam is a common occurrence in predominantly Muslim areas of Ethiopia and neighboring countries, area Christians said, adding that they are often subject to harassment and intimidation.

Ethiopia’s constitution, laws and policies generally respect freedom of religion, but occasionally some local authorities infringe on this right, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

According to Operation World, nearly 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population affiliates with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 19 percent are evangelical and Pentecostal and 34 percent are Sunni Muslim. The remainder are Catholic (3 percent) and ethno-religious (3.7 percent).

 

Jimma Violence

In Jimma Zone in the country’s southwest, where thousands of Christians in and around Asendabo have been displaced as a result of attacks that began on March 2 after Muslims accused a Christian of desecrating the Quran, the number of churches burned has reached 71, and two people have reportedly been killed. Their identities, however, were still unconfirmed.

When the anti-Christian violence of thousands of Muslims subsided by the end of March, 30 homes had reportedly been destroyed and as many as 10,000 Christians may have been displaced from Asendabo, Chiltie, Gilgel Gibe, Gibe, Nada, Dimtu, Uragay, Busa and Koticha.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

One Dead as Islamist Mobs in Ethiopia Destroy Church Buildings


Total structures razed at 59; at least 4,000 Christians displaced.

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 7 (CDN) — At least one Christian was killed and others injured when thousands of Islamic extremists set fire to 59 churches and at least 28 homes in western Ethiopia in the past five days, Christian leaders said.

More than 4,000 Christians in and around Asendabo, Jimma Zone have been displaced as a result of attacks that began on Wednesday (March 2) after Muslims accused a Christian of desecrating the Quran by tearing up a copy, sources said.

“The atrocity is still going on, and more people are suffering,” said a source in Addis Ababa who is in close contact with area church leaders.

The Christian killed, believed to have been a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, has not yet been identified.

“One Orthodox believer, whose daughter is a member of Mekane Yesus Church, has been killed,” an Ethiopian church leader told Compass. “Ministers were injured, and many more believers have been displaced.”

A pastor based in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa noted that evangelical church leaders have reported the attacks to authorities and asked officials for help, but no action had been taken at press time.

“The church requested more police protection,” he said. “The authorities sent security forces, but they were overwhelmed by the attackers.”

After the destruction began at Asendabo, it spread to Chiltie, Gilgel Gibe, Gibe, Nada, Dimtu, Uragay, Busa and Koticha, as Muslim mobs in the thousands rampaged throughout the area, sources said.

“Police at the site are not taking any action – they just watch what is happening,” said another source. “It is difficult to estimate the attack in terms of deaths, since we have no access to any location.”

Those displaced are in shelters in Ako, Jimma, Dimtu and Derbo, he said.

“We are very concerned that the attack that began on March 2 in Asendabo, which is the rural part of Jimma, is now heading to Jimma town,” he said.

The extremists also destroyed an Ethiopian Kale Hiwot Church (EKHC) Bible school building and two church office buildings, the source said. Of the churches burned, he said, 38 belonged to the EKHC; 12 were Mekane Yesus buildings; six were Seventh-day Adventist structures; two were Muluwongel church buildings, and another belonged to a “Jesus Only” congregation.

“Women and children are the most affected in this sudden attack,” he said. “It is needless to mention the believers’ houses and properties burned down. The overall estimated cost, may be worth over 60 million birr [US$3.55 million].”

Anti-Christian attacks in western Ethiopia in 2006 killed at least 24 people.

“Attacks on the church have been a common occurrence in predominantly Muslim areas of Ethiopia like Jimma and Jijiga,” the source said, adding that Christians are often subject to harassment and intimidation.

Asendabo, in Oromia Region, is about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Addis Ababa.

The attacks erupted as heavy fighting was taking place at the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Ethiopian troops were trying to repel Islamic extremist al-Shabaab troops from Bulahawo, Somalia, near Mandera, Kenya, with several casualties and hundreds displaced.

Ethiopia’s constitution, laws and policies generally respect freedom of religion, but occasionally some local authorities infringe on this right, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

According to the 2007 census, 44 percent of Ethiopia’s population affiliate with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 19 percent are evangelical and Pentecostal and 34 percent are Sunni Muslim.

Report from Compass Direct News

Authorities Move to Stop Protestant Christmas Events


Apparent central government crackdown puts halt to Yuletide celebrations in five areas.

HANOI, Vietnam, December 20 (CDN) — In what appeared to be part of a central government crackdown on Protestant Christianity in Vietnam, hundreds of Christians from 10 northern provinces were locked out of a Christmas celebration that was supposed to take place here yesterday.

The throngs who arrived at the National Convention Center (NCC) in the Tu Kiem district of Hanoi for the Christmas event found the doors locked and a phalanx of police trying to send them away, sources said. Deeply disappointed, some of the Christians began singing and praying in the square in front to the center, they said.

Police moved in, striking some Christians with fists and night sticks in the melee that followed. A number of video clips of the action were posted online by Monday morning (Dec. 20), Hanoi time. Christian leaders worked to calm the disappointed crowd, which eventually left, but not before at least six people – including the Rev. Nguyen Huu Bao, the scheduled speaker at the event – were arrested. They had not been released at press time.

Similar incidents occurred on Christmas Sunday (Dec. 19) in at least four other places throughout the country.

Unregistered house churches under the umbrella of the Hanoi Christian Fellowship rented the auditorium in the name of one of their members. A copy of the six-page contract obtained by Compass says the event was to be a reunion of Vietnamese who had worked in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries. Many of northern Vietnam’s house church leaders became Christians during their time there.

While it was understood that this was to be a Christmas event, the managers of the state-owned facility did not want to put this in writing. Organizers had hoped that some 4,000 people would come.

The contract called for at least five days’ written notice before the event if either side wanted to terminate the contract. According to one source, the NCC informed event organizers on Dec. 15, four days before the event, that the contract was voided but gave no reasons as the contract required. The organizers, having completed major preparations and distributed several thousand invitations, considered this a breach of contract and decided to try to go ahead.

When the first Christians arrived Sunday afternoon, they found the doors of the NCC locked. According to a source at the scene, a sign indicated a wedding was taking place. When more than 1,000 people had arrived, some decided to sing and pray in the square in front of the NCC. Police called for reinforcements.

One witness said “possibly hundreds” of uniformed and plainclothes personnel came to try to disperse the growing crowd. Reports from the scene and video clips on the Web show pushing and shoving, with some Christian leaders trying desperately to calm the agitated crowd. Some witnesses said officials punched some Christians, and others were struck hard with night sticks. Late police reinforcements carried electric cattle prods, according to one source. In one clip, people can be seen comforting an 86-year-old woman who was knocked down.

Gradually the Christians dispersed. For many Christians who tried to come – some from great distances and at great personal expense – this would have marked the first time they had ever worshipped in a large gathering.

Sources in Vietnam told Compass that similar stoppages also took place yesterday (Dec. 19) in Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, and Quang Nam provinces, and in the city of Danang in central Vietnam.

In Thanh Hoa province, Christians of various house church denominations planned a joint celebration yesterday at the home of a woman identified only as Tuyet in Dong Phu commune. Pastor Ho Van Thom sent an appeal to the church worldwide asking for the prayers. He arrived at the scene to find some Christians had been beaten and wounded by police intent on preventing their Christmas worship.

In Danang city in central Vietnam, the Rev. Ho Tan Khoa, superintendent of the unregistered United Presbyterian Church of Vietnam, was invited to preach at a house church Christmas celebration yesterday. Pastor Khoa reported that a distraught church leader told him authorities had come that morning and, without a warrant, carted off the chairs, the pulpit and the sound system. They also tore down the Christmas decorations including a backdrop painstakingly decorated by church members, he said.

In Ho Chi Minh City, house churches have received permission for a public Christmas celebration both from authorities of the central government in Hanoi and of Ho Chi Minh City for an event on Dec. 26.  But church leaders say that potential venue owners, obviously under threat, will not dare rent to them.

Even those who closely follow Protestant church developments in Vietnam were somewhat surprised at the severity of the crackdown. One well-respected overseas Vietnam leader observed that it is now clear that this was a coordinated, well-planned and executed crackdown involving top Communist Party and government officials.

He noted that sometimes officials in remote areas of the country are excused when they persecute Christians on the grounds they do not yet know the new, more enlightened religion policies of the central government.

“In this case,” he said, “the strong actions against Christians are taking place in Vietnam’s three largest cities. They can’t use that excuse.”

Another observer said that authorities likely became alarmed at the size and attraction of the Christmas events in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi last Christmas. The events in those two cities attracted more than 50,000 people. They were organized by unregistered house churches that somehow obtained permission in spite of prohibitions of such events by Vietnam’s Decree 22, which governs religion.

One key church leader in Vietnam informed Compass that Directive No. 75, a secret Ministry of Interior document dated Oct. 15, ordered the crackdown on unregistered groups.

Unregistered groups are caught in limbo. Denominations with a history before the 1975 communist takeover of Vietnam have now been registered, but many groups that began in the 1980s and later have tried but failed to register their congregations as provided by Vietnam’s regulations. Their requests have mostly been ignored or denied, leaving them vulnerable to capricious repression.

As Christmas Day draws near, it appears the 400,000 or so Protestants that belong to unregistered churches will be denied celebrating together.

Report from Compass Direct News

Plinky Prompt: If You Were President of the U.S., what would be your #1 Priority? Why?


Sabari grasses

If I was president of the United States my number 1 priority would probably be having a serious rethink on both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not that I think the war on terror should be ended – far from it – just that a review of current
policies is probably needed. There are probably some other ways of doing things that are more helpful, useful and directed towards a determination.

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