National security review recommends complete overhaul of electronic surveillance – but will it work?


Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, The University of Queensland

The most extensive review of Australia’s intelligence sector since the 1970s has released its public report.

The Comprehensive Review of the Legal Framework of the National Intelligence Community – the “Richardson Review” – culminated in a four-volume declassified report containing 203 recommendations (13 of them classified).

It has been embraced by the government, which took almost a year to consider the classified report (described by Attorney-General Christian Porter as needing “to be carried around in a wheelbarrow”).

The undertaking was enormous. In the 19 years since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, federal parliament has introduced 124 separate acts concerning the national intelligence community. On the whole, these acts have enhanced government power, increased secrecy, and scrambled to keep up with a constantly evolving threat environment. The result is one of the most complex legislative landscapes in the world.




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Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism


Shining light into the shadows

The intelligence community operates in the shadows. So it is significant that this extensive (and expensive, to the tune of A$18 million) inquiry has resulted in a public report and recommendations. The report provides a valuable insight into the intelligence sector: its powers, functions and room for improvement.

But it must be acknowledged this was essentially – and perhaps necessarily – an internal inquiry.

The review was chaired by retired senior public servant Dennis Richardson. His former roles include head of ASIO and secretary of both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence. Consultation focused on Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies and departments. Only 16 submissions were received from non-government sources.

Since the September 11 terror attacks, Australia has enacted 124 separate acts concerning the intelligence community.
AAP/AP/Richard Drew

This means the inquiry had the high-level access and expertise necessary for a truly comprehensive review.

It also makes it less surprising the government has agreed (in whole or part) to all but four of the review’s recommendations. Indeed, many of the recommendations affirm the current state of the law and the sector as a whole. The review’s engagement with civil liberties, democratic freedoms, whistleblower protections and such, is restrained. Instead, it focuses on other aspects of the rule of law, particularly legal clarity and (internal) oversight.

An electronic surveillance act is a good idea – in principle

The sheer scope of the Richardson review means its far-reaching recommendations will be mulled over for years.

However, the report contains one clear centrepiece: the introduction of a new electronic surveillance act. This, Porter says:

…would be perhaps the biggest national security legislative project in recent history.

While Richardson estimates the introduction of the act could take five years and a budget of A$10 million, the government has agreed to pursue the idea.

The simplification of Australia’s surveillance legislation will be welcomed by anyone who has grappled with the monstrously complex Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA act).

An electronic surveillance act would retain the same basic processes that exist now; the changes would focus on clarity and modernisation.

The attorney-general would also keep a key role in issuing a range of warrants – the report advises against a greater role for the judiciary in this respect. The primary focus remains on intelligence and investigatory aims.

The centrepiece of the Richardson review is a new Electronic Surveillance Act, which could take five years to implement.
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New powers and access to telecommunications data would be granted to the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), Australian Border Force and corrective services agencies.

But the report warns against giving other agencies new powers. The Australian Signals Directorate, for example, (which a leaked 2018 memorandum suggesting it could be given domestic surveillance powers) should not be given “an onshore crime-fighting role” as this would “dilute its mission” and “constitute a profound break with the principles which have stood us in good stead”.




Read more:
Explainer: how the Australian intelligence community works


Centralising oversight

Oversight is crucial for the powerful security sector, but also presents tricky problems of security and secrecy (as demonstrated by the Witness K affair). Richardson decries the existing oversight framework in the TIA act as “a dog’s breakfast”, and recommends centralising national oversight in the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

A similar emphasis is given to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS). Numerous enhancements to the oversight powers of the IGIS are recommended, including allowing the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Intelligence and Security to request the IGIS undertake an investigation. However, this latter recommendation has been wholly rejected by the government.

While this marks the culmination of an immense investigation, the Richardson report is the beginning, rather than the end, of a journey.

It needs to be read alongside the countless other reports and inquiries that have recommended important changes to Australia’s counterterrorism, data surveillance, whistleblower protection and other frameworks.




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A starting point for reform

The government has committed to a complete overhaul of its electronic surveillance powers and processes. The Richardson report lays the groundwork for this. It synthesises the views and experiences of Australia’s vast intelligence community and presents a crucial starting point for reform.

However, the process of rewriting the rules on electronic surveillance should include myriad voices beyond the intelligence community. Ideally, this would involve not only experts in law, rights and privacy, but also technology, AI, telecommunications, criminology and more.

The review gives a nod to a few of the complicating factors in the future of electronic surveillance – including the rise of artificial intelligence, the capacity to use the 5G network as a tracking device, and the pervasiveness of cyber crime.

Data surveillance laws are rarely subject to effective oversight or public accountability. This was borne out, for example, in the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s 2019 report on warrantless access to retained telecommunication data. It revealed widespread misconduct and an average of 1000 accesses to Australians’ data each day.

An electronic surveillance act is a good idea, in theory. It will take a lively and considered public debate to ensure it becomes a good idea in practice – capable of not only protecting our safety and security, but democratic accountability and basic freedoms as well.The Conversation

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Major reform of surveillance laws proposed by review



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A new single legislative framework governing electronic surveillance activities in Australia has been recommended by a sweeping review of the nation’s intelligence laws.

The review found the existing laws governing this area are complex and outdated by changing technology.

The new act – not designed to alter powers – would cover telecommunication interception, covert access to stored communications, computers and telecommunications data, and the use of optical, listening and tracking devices.

The comprehensive review, led by Dennis Richardson, who previously headed the departments of defence and foreign affairs, as well as ASIO, and served as ambassador to the United States.

The Richardson report runs to 1600 pages and 203 recommendations, 13 of them classified. A declassified version was released by Attorney-General Christian Porter on Friday.

In general, the review – the most extensive since the inquiries of the 1970s and 1980s – gave a tick to the principles underpinning current security and intelligence legislation. But it found it in need of rationalisation and modernisation. Porter characterised the reforms as evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

The review did have sharp observations about some agencies, including noting “an immature understanding of the foundational principles governing the intelligence agencies”.

“This lack of understanding led some agencies to suggest that legitimate safeguards should be removed to, for example, facilitate better information sharing or relieve administrative burdens,” the report said.

“The term ‘administrative burden’ tends to be thrown around too loosely by the [national intelligence community] agencies. Government should be wary of, and properly test, such claims.”

The government has accepted almost all the recommendations, including for the new surveillance legislation. Some are accepted in principle or in part. Only four recommendations – none of them classified – have been rejected.

Richardson’s report warns that reforming the surveillance legislation will take years. “This is due to the issues at play, the multitude of interested stakeholders at the Commonwealth, state and territory level and the controversy which attaches to what are, arguably, the most intrusive powers of the state”.

Porter said other changes the government would pursue included

  • strengthening ministerial control over ASIO’s offshore activities

  • streamlining the provisions for issuing emergency warrants

  • ensuring oversight was better embedded when intelligence legislation is created

  • establishing an independent panel to provide technical expertise and assistance to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS).

One of the rejected recommendations would have enabled the parliamentary committee on security and intelligence to be able to request the IGIS to inquire into “the legality and propriety of particular operational activities”.

In its rejection, the government said: “It remains appropriate for ministers to primarily oversee operations and be accountable to parliament”.

The review recommends widening ASIO’s power to collect foreign intelligence. Foreign intelligence means intelligence about the capabilities, intentions or activities of people or organisations outside Australia.

An example would be a dual citizen working in Australia on behalf of a foreign government. The amendment would allow the attorney-general to issue a warrant in relation to the person for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence, while the person is in Australia.

At present “ASIO may obtain warrants authorising it to collect foreign intelligence inside Australia. However a warrant cannot be issued for the purpose of collecting information concerning an Australian citizen or permanent resident. This applies while they are in Australia.

“This prohibition should not apply where an Australian citizen or permanent resident is acting for, or on behalf of, a foreign power.”

The review recommended changes to prevent the delegation of the attorney-general’s powers in relation to ASIO warrants and authorisations.

It also found “room to improve” how agencies manage risks to foreign relations.

“There is a simple need for agencies to consult and inform [the foreign affairs department] more readily than what they are doing at present when they are engaging in risky offshore activity.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cashless payment is booming, thanks to coronavirus. So is financial surveillance


Jack Parkin, Western Sydney University

A banknote has been sitting in my wallet for six months now. As time ticks on, it burns an ever greater hole in my pocket.

At first I felt uneasy spending it, following COVID-19 warnings to pay more attention to hand hygiene and the surfaces we all touch on a daily basis.

Now I have less and less opportunity to do so. While the World Health Organisation has never advised against using cash, more and more businesses are displaying signs that read “We Only Accept Contactless Payment” next to their registers.

A recent global poll conducted by MasterCard – a company with reason to favour card-based payments – found 82% of its users see contactless payments as cleaner than cash.

Online shopping is booming too. Amazon’s value alone has risen by 570 billion US dollars this year.

But while electronic payment may reduce our exposure to germs, it also shows banks, vendors and payment platforms what we do with our money. Social media is awash with posts condemning the forced use of contactless payment for fear of overseers eyeballing spending. Some people are even boycotting stores that won’t accept cash.

The growth of digital transactions exposes yet another aspect of our personal life to, what the social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff has called, “surveillance capitalism”. Financial data is now a valuable raw material that can be bought, sold and refined in the name of profit.

The decline of cash

When the pandemic began, cash had already been on the decline for years. In Australia, demand for coins fell by more than 50% between 2013 and 2019.

For many people, increasing digitisation is synonymous with progress. It can be seen as a way of leaving the cumbersome, historical artefacts of coins and banknotes behind.

COVID-19 has accelerated this move away from cash. Wariness of microbe-ridden banknotes has seen contactless payment become a spontaneous public health standard.

Because cash is a social material, it moves between us, connecting us both financially and physically. The US Federal Reserve even decided to quarantine dollars returning from Asia earlier this year in an attempt to stop the coronavirus crossing its borders.




Read more:
Depending on who you are, the benefits of a cashless society are greatly overrated


Dropping digital breadcrumbs

One perk of paper money is that it does not leave paper trails. Digital money, however, leaves traces in the databases of banks, vendors and platform owners, while governments look keenly over their shoulders.

Financial journalist Brett Scott calls this a “prison of watchable payments”.

Tax officials love digital transactions because they make it easier to monitor the nation’s economy. Banks and payment platforms are pleased as well: not only do they collect fees and gain the ability to allow or obstruct transactions, they can also profit from the troves of personal data piling up on their servers.

Internally, banks use this data to offer you other bespoke services such as loans and insurance. But information is also aggregated to better understand wider economic trends, and then sold on to third parties.

At the moment, these data metrics are anonymised but that doesn’t guard against retailers using de-anonymising techniques to attach transactions back to your identity.

Data brokers exist for this very reason: building digital profiles and creating a marketplace for them. This allows retailers to target you with tailored advertisements based on your spending. The devices at everyone’s fingertips become a feedback loop of information in which companies analyse what people have bought and then urge them to buy more.




Read more:
Explainer: what is surveillance capitalism and how does it shape our economy?


Can surveillance work on your behalf?

Having records of every transaction can also be useful for individuals. Companies such as Revolut and Monzo offer “spending analytics” services to help customers manage their money by tracking where it goes each month.

But information about a user’s own behaviour never truly belongs to them. And, as the digital economist Nick Srnicek explains, “suppression of privacy is at the heart of the business model”.

Digital payment with (some) privacy

While filling virtual baskets or paying by tapping a card does open up transactions for inspection, there are still ways you can protect your health and your data at the same time.

“Virtual cards” like those provided by privacy.com are one useful tool. These services let users create multiple card numbers for different online purchases that conceal consumption patterns from banks and credit card details from merchants.

Cryptocurrencies might also find a new limelight in the pandemic. Hailed as cash for the internet, the inbuilt privacy mechanisms of Bitcoin, Zcash and Monero could work to mask transactions.

However, finding companies that accept them is challenging, and their privacy capabilities are often overstated for everyday users. This is particularly true when using exchanges and third-party wallet software such as Coinbase.

In brick-and-mortar stores, staying under the radar can be more difficult. Prepaid cards are one option – but you’ll need to buy the card itself with cash if you want to keep your anonymity fully intact. And that takes us back to square one.The Conversation

Jack Parkin, Digital Economist, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep calm, but don’t just carry on: how to deal with China’s mass surveillance of thousands of Australians



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Bruce Baer Arnold, University of Canberra

National security is like sausage-making. We might enjoy the tasty product, but want to look away from the manufacturing.

Recent news that Chinese company Zhenhua Data is profiling more than 35,000 Australians isn’t a surprise to people with an interest in privacy, security and social networks. We need to think critically about this, knowing we can do something to prevent it from happening again.

Reports indicate Zhenhua provides services to the Chinese government. It may also provide services to businesses in China and overseas.

The company operates under Chinese law and doesn’t appear to have a presence in Australia. That means we can’t shut it down or penalise it for a breach of our law. Also, Beijing is unlikely to respond to expressions of outrage from Australia or condemnation by our government – especially amid recent sabre-rattling.




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Zhenhua is reported to have data on more than 35,000 Australians – a list saturated by political leaders and prominent figures. Names, birthdays, addresses, marital status, photographs, political associations, relatives and social media account details are among the information extracted.

It seems Zhenhua has data on a wide range of Australians, including public figures such as Victorian supreme court judge Anthony Cavanough, Australia’s former ambassador to China Geoff Raby, former NSW premier and federal foreign affairs minister Bob Carr, tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and singer Natalie Imbruglia.

It’s not clear how individuals are being targeted. The profiling might be systematic. It might instead be conducted on the basis of a specific industry, academic discipline, public prominence or perceived political influence.

It’s unlikely Zhenhua profiles random members of the public. That means there’s no reason for average citizens without a China connection to be worried.

Still, details around the intelligence gathering elude us, so best practise for the public is to maintain as much online privacy as possible, whenever possible.

Overall, we don’t know much about Zhenhua’s goals. And what we do know came from a leak to a US academic who sensibly fled China in 2018, fearing for his safety.

Pervasive surveillance is the norm

Pervasive surveillance is now a standard feature of all major governments, which often rely on surveillance-for-profit companies. Governments in the West buy services from big data analytic companies such as Palantir.

Australia’s government gathers information outside our borders, too. Take the bugging of the Timor-Leste government, a supposed friend rather than enemy.

How sophisticated is the plot?

Revelations about Zhenhua have referred to the use of artificial intelligence and the “mosaic” method of intelligence gathering. But this is probably less exciting than it sounds.

Reports indicate much of the data was extracted from online open sources. Access to much of this would have simply involved using algorithms to aggregate targets’ names, dates, qualifications and work history data found on publicly available sites.

The algorithms then help put the individual pieces of the “mosaic” together and fill in the holes on the basis of each individual’s relationship with others, such as their as peers, colleagues or partners.

Some of the data for the mosaic may come from hacking or be gathered directly by the profiler. According to the ABC, some data that landed in Zhenhua’s lap was taken from the dark web.

One seller might have spent years copying data from university networks. For example, last year the Australian National University acknowledged major personal data breaches had taken place, potentially extending back 19 years.

This year there was also the unauthorised (and avoidable) access by cybercriminals to NSW government data on 200,000 people.

While it may be confronting to know a foreign state is compiling information on Australian citizens, it should be comforting to learn sharing this information can be avoided – if you’re careful.

What’s going on in the black box?

One big question is what Zhenhua’s customers in China’s political and business spheres might do with the data they’ve compiled on Australian citizens. Frankly, we don’t know. National security is often a black box and we are unlikely ever to get verifiable details.

Apart from distaste at being profiled, we might say being watched is no big deal, especially given many of those on the list are already public figures. Simply having an AI-assisted “Who’s Who” of prominent Australians isn’t necessarily frightening.

However, it is of concern if the information collected is being used for disinformation, such as through any means intended to erode trust in political processes, or subvert elections.

For instance, a report published in June by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute detailed how Chinese-speaking people in Australia were being targeted by a “persistent, large-scale influence campaign linked to Chinese state actors”.

Illustration of surveillance camera with Chinese flag draped over.
In June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced China was supposedly behind a major state-based attack against several of Australia’s sectors, including all levels of government.
Shutterstock

Deep fake videos are another form of subversion of increasing concern to governments and academics, particularly in the US.




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Deepfake videos could destroy trust in society – here’s how to restore it


Can we fix this?

We can’t make Zhenhua and its competitors disappear. Governments think they are too useful.

Making everything visible to state surveillance is now the ambition of many law enforcement bodies and all intelligence agencies. It’s akin to Google and its competitors wanting to know (and sell) everything about us, without regard for privacy as a human right.

We can, however, build resilience.

One way is to require government agencies and businesses to safeguard their databases. That hasn’t been the case with the NSW government, Commonwealth governments, Facebook, dating services and major hospitals.

In Australia, we need to adopt recommendations by law reform inquiries and establish a national right to privacy. The associated privacy tort would incentivise data custodians and also encourage the public to avoid oversharing online.

In doing so, we might be better placed to condemn both China and other nations participating in unethical intelligence gathering, while properly acknowledging our own wrongdoings in Timor-Leste.The Conversation

Bruce Baer Arnold, Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Melbourne is using pop-up police spy stations to find people breaking COVID rules – what does the law say?


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Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

CCTV cameras mounted on vans have recently been seen in public parks around Melbourne, ostensibly to nab anyone breaking lockdown rules. They are part of a joint initiative between several Melbourne councils, Victoria Police and the Commonwealth government.

Coming on the back of Victorian police arresting and charging a number of people for inciting others to break bans on public gatherings by protesting in the streets, there is likely to be widespread resentment to the presence of these mobile surveillance units.

Many people are already claiming the Victorian government has once again over-stepped the mark in its aggressive approach to suppressing COVID-19.

These mobile units are not new, though. They were introduced in 2018 to help combat crime. They are not cheap, either. The cost to purchase and operate four of the units has been estimated at $3.6 million.

But what are the laws around public surveillance of people going about their daily business or recreational activities outdoors?

Let me tackle this question by posing four related questions:

  • are the cameras legal?

  • are such surveillance tools effective?

  • are these measures acceptable in a vibrant democracy?

  • what protections should be put in place?




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Police and governments may increasingly adopt surveillance technologies in response to coronavirus fears


Are the cameras legal?

It needs to be stated at the outset the Constitution does not include any specific rights related to privacy. And the High Court suggested two decades ago that privacy was unlikely to be protected under common law.

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights, however, contains a provision that states people have the right not to have their

privacy unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with.

But a lawfully installed camera designed to deter offending would not, on its face, defy the terms of the charter.

International law, too, provides some privacy protections. In 1991, Australia signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states

no one should be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy.

However, Australian parliaments have introduced few laws to enshrine these protections. The legislation that has been enacted has largely been limited to curtailing the use of privately monitored listening and surveillance devices and preventing governments and big business from sharing citizens’ private information.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has issued clarion calls to extend these protections in recent years, but these efforts continue to gather dust.




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So, it should not be surprising that mobile CCTV cameras driven to and stationed in public places are perfectly legal.

Moreover, so-called “unmanned airborne vehicles” (UAVs), more commonly known as drones, are regularly deployed by police for surveillance purposes, too.

Both of these surveillance tools are backed by regulatory force at all three levels of government.

Police have been patrolling parks for weeks to ensure compliance with the Stage 4 lockdown regulations.
ERIK ANDERSON/AP

Are these surveillance tools effective?

Proponents of these mobile surveillance units argue the perceived risks to privacy and heavy investment are worth it, given the social disorder they prevent and the help they provide police in solving crimes.

However, there is much research now that casts doubt on this assumption.

In one study in 2009, for instance, CCTV cameras were only found to reduce crime by 16% overall (and by only 7% in city and town centres and public housing communities).

The efficacy of these surveillance units in a health emergency has yet to be proven. The cameras would seem to be most useful in providing police with information regarding who is using the parks, and perhaps providing something of a deterrent to those who might consider breaching lockdown restrictions, but not much more.

Are these measures acceptable?

Yes and no. On the one hand, there is no doubt people want the coronavirus restrictions to end. And if these units deter people from breaking lockdown rules, and this, in turn, helps bring the new case numbers down more quickly, people may accept the intrusion in their lives.

On the other hand, some are understandably alarmed at the increasing use of surveillance tools by authorities — dubbed “uberveillance” by sociologists.




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Pandemic policing needs to be done with the public’s trust, not confusion


Even advocates for civil liberties appear ambivalent about the curtailment of some basic rights during the pandemic.

Liberty Victoria President Julian Burnside, who has been a fierce defender of privacy rights, surprised many by telling The Age,

It all sounds pretty sensible to me. … We are in a war against the coronavirus, and when you’re in a war with anything, restrictions on your otherwise normal liberties are justifiable.

Liberty Victoria quickly sought to distance itself from the comments.

What protections should be put in place?

There is no doubt parliaments are the most appropriate bodies to determine the extent to which individuals can be subjected to lawful public surveillance.

Indeed, former High Court judge Michael Kirby argues the legislative arm of government needs to step up to the task of scrutinising emergency powers with more vigour.

Otherwise it simply becomes a tame servant of the executive, which is a common weakness of parliamentary democracies of the Westminster system.

But parliaments will only respond if citizens demand this of them, and there are very few signs of that at the moment.

In the meantime, there are a number of legal tweaks that should be undertaken to ensure the government’s spying on the public domain is appropriately measured:

  1. we need to ensure the images and other data that are collected by surveillance units are stored appropriately and discarded quickly when no longer needed

  2. we need to be able to hold police and other surveillance operators to account for any excesses in the manner in which images are gathered and shared

  3. there needs to be a new legal remedy in the event there is a serious invasion of privacy by the inappropriate use or disclosure of images collected by surveillance devices.

True, we have the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner constantly reminding governments of the concerns associated with threats to privacy.

But without civic push-back, little will change. Parliamentarians are unlikely to limit the powers of the executive to allow mobile surveillance units to be parked in public places unless it becomes politically unpopular. One can but wonder when this tipping point may be reached.The Conversation

Rick Sarre, Emeritus Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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



File 20171107 1032 f7pvxc.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Do you care if your data is being used by third parties?
from www.shutterstock.com

Siobhan Lyons, Macquarie University

We all seem worried about privacy. Though it’s not only privacy itself we should be concerned about: it’s also our attitudes towards privacy that are important.

When we stop caring about our digital privacy, we witness surveillance apathy.

And it’s something that may be particularly significant for marginalised communities, who feel they hold no power to navigate or negotiate fair use of digital technologies.


Read more: Yes, your doctor might google you


In the wake of the NSA leaks in 2013 led by Edward Snowden, we are more aware of the machinations of online companies such as Facebook and Google. Yet research shows some of us are apathetic when it comes to online surveillance.

Privacy and surveillance

Attitudes to privacy and surveillance in Australia are complex.

According to a major 2017 privacy survey, around 70% of us are more concerned about privacy than we were five years ago.

Snapshot of Australian community attitudes to privacy 2017.
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

And yet we still increasingly embrace online activities. A 2017 report on social media conducted by search marketing firm Sensis showed that almost 80% of internet users in Australia now have a social media profile, an increase of around ten points from 2016. The data also showed that Australians are on their accounts more frequently than ever before.

Also, most Australians appear not to be concerned about recently proposed implementation of facial recognition technology. Only around one in three (32% of 1,486) respondents to a Roy Morgan study expressed worries about having their faces available on a mass database.

A recent ANU poll revealed a similar sentiment, with recent data retention laws supported by two thirds of Australians.

So while we’re aware of the issues with surveillance, we aren’t necessarily doing anything about it, or we’re prepared to make compromises when we perceive our safety is at stake.

Across the world, attitudes to surveillance vary. Around half of Americans polled in 2013 found mass surveillance acceptable. France, Britain and the Philippines appeared more tolerant of mass surveillance compared to Sweden, Spain, and Germany, according to 2015 Amnesty International data.


Read more: Police want to read encrypted messages, but they already have significant power to access our data


Apathy and marginalisation

In 2015, philosopher Slavoj Žižek proclaimed that he did not care about surveillance (admittedly though suggesting that “perhaps here I preach arrogance”).

This position cannot be assumed by all members of society. Australian academic Kate Crawford argues the impact of data mining and surveillance is more significant for marginalised communities, including people of different races, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds. American academics Shoshana Magnet and Kelley Gates agree, writing:

[…] new surveillance technologies are regularly tested on marginalised communities that are unable to resist their intrusion.

A 2015 White House report found that big data can be used to perpetuate price discrimination among people of different backgrounds. It showed how data surveillance “could be used to hide more explicit forms of discrimination”.


Read more: Witch-hunts and surveillance: the hidden lives of queer people in the military


According to Ira Rubinstein, a senior fellow at New York University’s Information Law Institute, ignorance and cynicism are often behind surveillance apathy. Users are either ignorant of the complex infrastructure of surveillance, or they believe they are simply unable to avoid it.

As the White House report stated, consumers “have very little knowledge” about how data is used in conjunction with differential pricing.

So in contrast to the oppressive panopticon (a circular prison with a central watchtower) as envisioned by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, we have what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls the “crytopticon”. The crytopticon is “not supposed to be intrusive or obvious. Its scale, its ubiquity, even its very existence, are supposed to go unnoticed”.

But Melanie Taylor, lead artist of the computer game Orwell (which puts players in the role of surveillance) noted that many simply remain indifferent despite heightened awareness:

That’s the really scary part: that Snowden revealed all this, and maybe nobody really cared.

The Facebook trap

Surveillance apathy can be linked to people’s dependence on “the system”. As one of my media students pointed out, no matter how much awareness users have regarding their social media surveillance, invariably people will continue using these platforms. This is because they are convenient, practical, and “we are creatures of habit”.

Are you prepared to give up the red social notifications from Facebook?
nevodka/shutterstock

As University of Melbourne scholar Suelette Dreyfus noted in a Four Corners report on Facebook:

Facebook has very cleverly figured out how to wrap itself around our lives. It’s the family photo album. It’s your messaging to your friends. It’s your daily diary. It’s your contact list.

This, along with the complex algorithms Facebook and Google use to collect and use data to produce “filter bubbles” or “you loops” is another issue.

Protecting privacy

While some people are attempting to delete themselves from the network, others have come up with ways to avoid being tracked online.

Search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Tor Browser allow users to browse without being tracked. Lightbeam, meanwhile, allows users to see how their information is being tracked by third party companies. And MIT devised a system to show people the metadata of their emails, called Immersion.

The ConversationSurveillance apathy is more disconcerting than surveillance itself. Our very attitudes about privacy will inform the structure of surveillance itself, so caring about it is paramount.

Siobhan Lyons, Scholar in Media and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University

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

Through a PRISM darkly: Tracking the ongoing NSA surveillance story


Gigaom

It was a relatively quiet week for internet news until Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald dropped a bombshell on Thursday, with a story that showed the National Security Agency was collecting data from Verizon thanks to a secret court order. But that was just the beginning: the Washington Post later revealed an even broader program of surveillance code-named PRISM, which involved data collection from the web’s largest players — including Google (s goog), Facebook (s fb) and Apple (s aapl) — and then the Wall Street Journal said data is also being gathered from ISPs and credit-card companies.

This story is moving so quickly that it is hard to keep a handle on all of the developments, not to mention trying to follow the denials and non-denials from those who are allegedly involved, and the threads that tie this particular story to the long and sordid history of the U.S. government’s…

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