Politics, Technology

Majority of ISPs not ready for metadata laws that come into force today

The vast majority of Australian internet service providers (ISPs) are not ready to start collecting and storing metadata as required under the country’s data retention laws which come into effect today.

ISPs have had the past six months to plan how they will comply with the law, but 84 per cent say they are not ready and will not be collecting metadata on time.

The Attorney-General’s department says ISPs have until April 2017 to become fully compliant with the law.

The figures come from a survey sent to ISPs by telecommunications industry lobby group Communications Alliance.

It found two-thirds of them are still not entirely sure what type of metadata the Government wants retained.

Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton said ISPs have had to start collecting a significant amount of new data, and complying with the laws has been difficult and time consuming.

The Government’s claim that what they’re asking for is retention of the status quo has never been correct, he said.

The vast majority [of ISPS] are saying: ‘We’re trying, but we’re not there yet’ — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Science

Tony Abbott’s department discussed investigation into Bureau of Meteorology over global warming exaggeration claims, FOI documents reveal

Former prime minister Tony Abbott’s own department discussed setting up an investigation into the Bureau of Meteorology amid media claims it was exaggerating estimates of global warming, Freedom of Information documents have revealed.

In August and September 2014, The Australian newspaper published reports questioning the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BoM) methodology for analysing temperatures, reporting claims BoM was wilfully ignoring evidence that contradicts its own propaganda.

With seven of Australia’s 10 warmest years on record being in the last 13 years and warnings climate change will bring disastrous impacts for Australia, the accuracy and integrity of temperature information is crucial.

The BoM strongly rejected assertions it was altering climate records to exaggerate estimates of global warming.

Nevertheless, documents obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information show just weeks after the articles were published, Mr Abbott’s own department canvassed using a taskforce to carry out due diligence on the BoM’s climate records — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics

Liberal leadership spill

Malcolm Turnbull is set to become Australia’s 29th prime minister after toppling Tony Abbott 54 votes to 44 in a Liberal leadership ballot at Parliament House in Canberra.

Julie Bishop convincingly defeated Kevin Andrews 70 votes to 30 in a ballot for deputy leader.

Mr Turnbull resigned from Cabinet after today’s Question Time and told Mr Abbott he would challenge for the leadership.

The Liberal party room gathered at 9:15pm (AEST) and just over 30 minutes later, the result was announced — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights, Technology

Government exploit vendor hacked, client data exposed

One of the world’s most notorious providers of offensive information technology to governments has had its internal systems breached and customer documentation dumped on the open internet.

Hacking Team, founded in 2003 and based in Milan, Italy, provides surveillance software and intrusion tools to law enforcement agencies around the world.

On its website it boasts clients across the US, Europe and the Asia Pacific, assisted by more than 50 employees providing all aspects of offensive IT tools.

The company’s primary surveillance tool – dubbed Da Vinci – earned it a spot on the Reporters Without Borders Enemies of the Internet list.

Its products allow governments to monitor online communications, record voice-over-IP (VoIP) sessions, remotely activate microphones and cameras, and break encrypted files and emails.

The company’s Twitter account was today compromised, and around 400GB of internal emails, files and source code were leaked to the internet, and spread via social media.

The attackers also posted screenshots of the compromised data from the leaked file to Twitter, and defaced the company’s logo and biography.

Earlier this afternoon — before his own Twitter account appeared to be hacked — Hacking Team engineer Christian Pozzi confirmed the breach and said the company was notifying affected customers and working with police.

According to the leaked data, Hacking Team counts customers from South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt and Mongolia. The company has long maintained it does not sell to oppressive governments — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights

The sound of silence stifles our freedom

So you think you’re free to speak your mind? Think again. We are, all of us, increasingly bubble-wrapped in the sounds of silence.

Silencing the intelligentsia has always been totalitarianism’s tool of choice. But there’s only so much you can achieve with prisons and pig-farms. Now, as public intelligence shrinks to a hoarse whisper, it seems corporatised culture may succeed where more gun-pointed regimes have failed.

The mindless din that now passes for civil debate is generally attributed to populism of one kind or another — the internet, the market, democracy itself. But perhaps that’s wrong. Perhaps the silence is coming from the top.

It’s not just scholars and academics, increasingly silenced by ludicrous administrative burdens, vanishing tenure, a casualising workforce and despair at the commodification of what we still call “higher” education. In a way, that’s the least of it. Across journalism, politics, agriculture, medicine, law, human rights and teaching, the gags are growing in size, number and efficacy — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights

The sound of silence stifles our freedom

So you think you’re free to speak your mind? Think again. We are, all of us, increasingly bubble-wrapped in the sounds of silence.

Silencing the intelligentsia has always been totalitarianism’s tool of choice. But there’s only so much you can achieve with prisons and pig-farms. Now, as public intelligence shrinks to a hoarse whisper, it seems corporatised culture may succeed where more gun-pointed regimes have failed.

The mindless din that now passes for civil debate is generally attributed to populism of one kind or another — the internet, the market, democracy itself. But perhaps that’s wrong. Perhaps the silence is coming from the top.

It’s not just scholars and academics, increasingly silenced by ludicrous administrative burdens, vanishing tenure, a casualising workforce and despair at the commodification of what we still call higher education. In a way, that’s the least of it. Across journalism, politics, agriculture, medicine, law, human rights and teaching, the gags are growing in size, number and efficacy — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Art, Politics
  • The Pencilsword: On a plate / Toby Morris
  • The Pencilsword: On a plate / Toby Morris
  • The Pencilsword: On a plate / Toby Morris
  • The Pencilsword: On a plate / Toby Morris

The Pencilsword: On a plate / Toby Morris

A short story about privilege. By Toby Morris — via Wil Wheaton

Politics, Rights, Technology

Glenn Greenwald says Australia is ‘one of most aggressive’ in mass surveillance

Australia is one of the most aggressive countries in the world in terms of mass surveillance and its techniques could be the subject of future leaks, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first reported on the Edward Snowden revelations for the Guardian, has said.

Greenwald, who now works for The Intercept, told ABC’s Lateline program on Thursday night that Australia is probably the country that has gotten away with things the most in terms of the Snowden revelations.

There are interesting documents about what Australia is doing to privacy rights — not just to their own citizens Glenn Greenwald

Australia is one of the most aggressive countries that engage in mass surveillance as a member of the Five Eyes partnership, he said, referring to a security sharing arrangement between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

There has been less reporting on Australia than the other four countries. We intend to change that.

We are working on the reporting, he continued. We will definitely get that done as soon as we can — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Art, Politics

The general election will soon be upon us so we thought we’d upload a new poster every day during the week’s run up.

All the posters are from the 1970s Watch Out! There’s a Politician About campaign.

Just before the Scarfolk election of 1975 the ruling party was keen to permanently eradicate all political opposition and set out to smear what it called a hazardous surplus of politicians and others suffering from civic delusional disorders. The incumbent’s aim was to bring about a state of emergency that would permit a legal postponement of the election, a postponement that could, in theory, become indefinite.

The smear campaigns knew no bounds as one politician after another was exposed for corruption, sexual and moral improprieties, and poor table manners. The media was awash with reports that many election candidates were telepathically controlled by immigrants, who, it was alleged, were all born of the same non-human mother and functioned as a hive mind.

As the campaign gathered pace, there were even false flag acts of terror. For example, when a bomb destroyed the headquarters of the National Health Service in May 1975, it was blamed on exploding lice carried by the children of liberal and intellectual parents, and in the same month a plot was uncovered to shackle the UK to mainland Europe with billions of tonnes of string below the waves of the English channel.

Use your vote wisely. Alternatively, vote for one of the parties currently on offer — via Scarfolk Council

Politics, Rights, Technology

Google slams Australian piracy site-blocking legislation

Google has said that cutting off advertising from piracy sites is much more effective than censoring the sites from access.

The Australian government last month introduced legislation that would allow rights holders to get an injunction placed on internet service providers (ISPs) to force telcos to block specific overseas piracy websites from access by Australian users.

The rights holders would need to demonstrate that the primary purpose of a website is for the infringement of copyright before the Federal Court will order ISPs to block it. Latest Australian news

Dallas Buyers Club wants alleged infringer details by May 6 The censorship end game of the piracy site-blocking Bill Mandatory data-retention funding to be a Budget surprise Google slams Australian piracy site-blocking legislation NBN Co predicts up to 370,000 premises need work on HFC

The move has been welcomed by rights holders, but faces opposition from Google, which told the parliamentary committee looking into the legislation that site blocking “is not the most effective means of stopping piracy”.

A recent study of the piracy ‘ecosystem’­ in which the authors conducted a detailed analysis of the effectiveness of various anti-­piracy measures found that anti­-piracy efforts directed towards blocking access to pirated content have not been successful, Google said in its submission.

Google said that more effective measures include providing legitimate content that is more attractive to consumers than piracy, and cutting off advertising to piracy websites. The introduction of site blocking could have unintended consequences, Google warned.

Site blocking also has the potential to be used in ways that were unintended, included by blocking legitimate content.

Google said that legislation allowing sites that facilitate access to infringing copyright content to be blocked could lead to virtual private network (VPN) services being blocked.

VPNs also have many other legitimate purposes, including privacy and security, Google stated.

The court should be forced to consider the impact on freedom of speech when blocking sites, the company said — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights, Technology

Google slams Australian piracy site-blocking legislation

Google has said that cutting off advertising from piracy sites is much more effective than censoring the sites from access.

The Australian government last month introduced legislation that would allow rights holders to get an injunction placed on internet service providers (ISPs) to force telcos to block specific overseas piracy websites from access by Australian users.

The rights holders would need to demonstrate that the primary purpose of a website is for the infringement of copyright before the Federal Court will order ISPs to block it. Latest Australian news

The move has been welcomed by rights holders, but faces opposition from Google, which told the parliamentary committee looking into the legislation that site blocking is not the most effective means of stopping piracy.

A recent study of the piracy ecosystem­ in which the authors conducted a detailed analysis of the effectiveness of various anti-­piracy measures found that anti­-piracy efforts directed towards blocking access to pirated content have not been successful, Google said in its submission.

Google said that more effective measures include providing legitimate content that is more attractive to consumers than piracy, and cutting off advertising to piracy websites. The introduction of site blocking could have unintended consequences, Google warned.

Site blocking also has the potential to be used in ways that were unintended, included by blocking legitimate content.

Google said that legislation allowing sites that facilitate access to infringing copyright content to be blocked could lead to virtual private network (VPN) services being blocked.

VPNs also have many other legitimate purposes, including privacy and security, Google stated.

The court should be forced to consider the impact on freedom of speech when blocking sites, the company said — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights, Technology

The censorship end game of the piracy site-blocking Bill

Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has barely even finished introducing piracy site-blocking legislation into the parliament, and already the Helen Lovejoys of the world are trying to get it expanded into a much larger internet censorship scheme.

The legislation introduced into parliament in March would allow film studios, TV companies, and other copyright holders to apply to the court to get specific sites hosted outside of Australia and alleged to be primarily for the purpose of copyright infringement blocked by Australian internet service providers (ISPs).

The court will ideally examine the sites involved, and ensure that they meet all the conditions before ordering a block, though this is not guaranteed at this point.

If the ISPs are ordered to block a site, they can do so in a number of ways — through DNS, IP address blocking, or URL blocking. The exact method, too, has yet to be determined.

Turnbull has stressed that because the court must approve sites being blocked, it is not an internet filter.

It will be a court, not the government, that will determine which sites are blocked. Moreover, this is not an automatic process, but determined by a court with all of the normal protections of legal due process. In other words, a judge will make the decision, after hearing evidence and argument, not an algorithm in the software operating a router, he said.

The lack of an automated process of filtering types of sites means it is not a filter, according to the minister.

Others seem to disagree, however.

Far be it for me to allow the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) to define the meaning of anything ever, but it has described the scheme as an internet piracy filter and called on the government to look at implementing a default clean feed to protect children — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Science

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki backs away from ‘flawed’, ‘political’ Intergenerational Report

The man promoting the Government’s Intergenerational Report, ABC science commentator Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, has backed away from the document, describing it as flawed.

Released every five years, the report provides a snapshot of how the nation might look in 40 years, covering everything from population size and life expectancy to public spending and the size of future budget deficits.

Dr Kruszelnicki appears in a number of advertisements promoting the report on television and radio, in newspapers and on social media, but he is now criticising the report’s reduced focus on climate change.

I did it on the grounds that it would be not for any political party but for the Government of Australia as a non-political, bipartisan, independent report, he told the ABC’s AM program.

He said he was only able to read parts of the report before he agreed to the ads as the rest was under embargo.

Despite assurances otherwise, Dr Kruszelnicki now believes he put his name and reputation to a report that is highly political and which largely ignores the impact of climate change — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights, Technology

What’s Scarier: Terrorism, or Governments Blocking Websites in its Name?

The French Interior Ministry on Monday ordered that five websites be blocked on the grounds that they promote or advocate terrorism. I do not want to see sites that could lead people to take up arms on the Internet, proclaimed Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

When the block functions properly, visitors to those banned sites, rather than accessing the content of the sites they chose to visit, will be automatically redirected to the Interior Ministry website. There, they will be greeted by a graphic of a large red hand, and text informing them that they were attempting to access a site that causes or promotes terrorism: you are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.

No judge reviews the Interior Ministry’s decisions. The minister first requests that the website owner voluntarily remove the content he deems transgressive; upon disobedience, the minister unilaterally issues the order to Internet service providers for the sites to be blocked. This censorship power is vested pursuant to a law recently enacted in France empowering the interior minister to block websites.

Forcibly taking down websites deemed to be supportive of terrorism, or criminalizing speech deemed to advocate terrorism, is a major trend in both Europe and the West generally. Last month in Brussels, the European Union’s counter-terrorism coordinator issued a memo proclaiming that Europe is facing an unprecedented, diverse and serious terrorist threat, and argued that increased state control over the Internet is crucial to combating it — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser has been remembered as a giant of Australian politics and a great moral compass following his death early on Friday morning at the age of 84.

It is with deep sadness that we inform you that after a brief illness, John Malcolm Fraser died peacefully in the early hours of the morning of 20 March, 2015, a statement released by his office said — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Politics, Rights, Technology

A Police Insider Says Data Retention Could Be Used To Catch Pirates

Concerned about the scope of the currently proposed data retention legislation currently being considered by Parliament? An ex-police officer says that one day, your metadata could be used to identify whether you’ve been downloading TV shows and movies illegitimately.

A former police officer who has previous experience with metadata and its potential applications has told ABC Radio National’s Download This Show that the oversight that currently exists over even currently retained metadata is minimal, and is ripe for abuse.

Using the example of an officer or other accredited agency user accessing metadata to check up on their ex-girlfriend, the insider told the program that he had never seen a metadata request denied on the basis of its legitimacy, but only cost. He also said that the agency officials talking up the potential of metadata at the moment, and petitioning for more widespread access, have no hands-on experience: …mobiles weren’t invented when they walked the beat.

The extent of even something as basic as smartphone location metadata can be extremely detailed and granular; the huge amount of data that anyone with any kind of online or digital profile generates would be exponentially more useful for any agency with access to the proposed metadata retention regime. Unless there is enough oversight baked into the legislation and restraint exercised in its scope, the potential for abuse is there — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Technology

Inside GOV.UK: ‘CHAOS’ and ‘NIGHTMARE’ as trendy Cabinet Office wrecked govt websites

Poor design and chaotic management by the supposedly crack team at the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service (GDS) left huge swathes of the British government in disarray, internal documents seen by the Register reveal. The documents confirm that GDS knew its flagship initiative to move all government websites under one roof, GOV.UK, was destroying useful online services and replacing them with trendy webpages bereft of useful information.

One internal report is particularly damning. The Home Office Visa and Immigration site transitioned [to GOV.UK] without a good understanding of users and needs … there was quickly a flood of negative feedback … coming from all directions, an insider states for the record. The report details a breakdown in fact checking described by more than one person as general chaos and a total nightmare.

The disclosures paint a picture that contradicts the public image of supremely confident digital gurus modernising the British government’s many websites, and making them more efficient. For all its vaunted skills in website design, GDS had a far poorer understanding of what the public actually needed than the relevant government departments did — this, according to GDS’ own internal analysis — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights

Australian government blames Snowden for data retention

The Australian Attorney-General’s Department has pushed back at industry and privacy advocate concerns over mandatory data-retention legislation, stating that the leaks on the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance operations by whistleblower Edward Snowden have hastened the need for the regime.

Under legislation currently before the parliament, Australian telecommunications companies would be required to retain an as-yet-undefined set of customer data for two years, not limited to but including call records, address information, email addresses, and assigned IP addresses.

The legislation is being backed up by Australian law-enforcement agencies, which claim that access to the data without a warrant is vital to almost every criminal investigation. Telecommunications companies and privacy advocates, however, warn that the scheme would be a major intrusion on the lives of every Australian, and that the costs of running the scheme will lead to higher prices for internet and phone services.

Telcos have suggested that existing preservation notices, which agencies can send to carriers, to retain the data for a specific individual under investigation would be much more appropriate than a wide-ranging mandatory data-retention regime.

The Attorney-General’s Department, however, claims in its submission to the parliamentary committee investigating the legislation that there are no practical alternatives to a legislated mandatory data-retention regime — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics

Christopher Pyne’s People Movement Poised For The Most Phyrrhic Of Victories

If mean-spirited government incompetence is getting you down then why not sign Christopher Pyne’s petition. And leave a comment. Go on, you know you want to.

Tony Abbott may be the greatest self-harmer in the history of Australian politics, but Christopher Pyne is not too far behind, setting his own cracking pace with his petition demanding that the ABC not close down production houses in Adelaide, despite his government cutting $250 million from the ABC budget.

Except that ironically, it might just turn out to be one of the greatest political victories the Abbott Government is ever likely to enjoy. And we mean that seriously — Greatest Political Victory For Abbott, Ever.

Which says plenty about what constitutes success for the Tories, and even more about just how bad their year has been. 2014 could go down as one of the most Annus Horriblis years on Australian political record.

A fortnight ago, Pyne launched his petition to stop cuts to the Adelaide branch of the ABC. It is lumbering – slowly and inevitably — towards reaching its goal of 5,000 signatures.

Indeed, Pyne is more than halfway there. By Monday afternoon, he’d reached 3360 – just 1640 left to get (an ironic number when you consider that most of Pyne’s political values come from precisely that era of human history).

Although there is a problem. Well, two actually.

The first is that the ABC has already confirmed the cuts to its production facilities in Adelaide. Which is very bad news for the poor staff there, but even worse for Pyne, who will no doubt weep away the summer break internalising the agony of a jobless Christmas for more than a few of his constituents.

The second — and perhaps more troubling — aspect is that almost every single one of the signatures on his petition appears to have been posted for the sole purpose of enabling the petitioner the opportunity to leave a comment… and assault the Minister for Education with the sort of language that our children most definitely do not learn in school (unless they had Professor Barry Spurr for … in which case, maybe) — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights, Technology

Secret Malware in European Union Attack Linked to US and British Intelligence

Complex malware known as Regin is the suspected technology behind sophisticated cyberattacks conducted by US and British intelligence agencies on the European Union and a Belgian telecommunications company, according to security industry sources and technical analysis conducted by The Intercept.

Regin was found on infected internal computer systems and email servers at Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian phone and internet provider, following reports last year that the company was targeted in a top-secret surveillance operation carried out by British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, industry sources told The Intercept.

The malware, which steals data from infected systems and disguises itself as legitimate Microsoft software, has also been identified on the same European Union computer systems that were targeted for surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The hacking operations against Belgacom and the European Union were first revealed last year through documents leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The specific malware used in the attacks has never been disclosed, however.

The Regin malware, whose existence was first reported by the security firm Symantec on Sunday, is among the most sophisticated ever discovered by researchers. Symantec compared Regin to Stuxnet, a state-sponsored malware program developed by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage computers at an Iranian nuclear facility. Sources familiar with internal investigations at Belgacom and the European Union have confirmed to The Intercept that the Regin malware was found on their systems after they were compromised, linking the spy tool to the secret GCHQ and NSA operations.

Ronald Prins, a security expert whose company Fox IT was hired to remove the malware from Belgacom’s networks, told The Intercept that it was “the most sophisticated malware” he had ever studied.

Having analysed this malware and looked at the [previously published] Snowden documents, Prins said, I’m convinced Regin is used by British and American intelligence services — via redwolf.newsvine.com

History, Politics, World

East German officer who opened Berlin Wall wept moments later

The East German lieutenant colonel who gave the fateful order to throw open the Berlin Wall 25 years ago said he wept in silence a few moments later as hordes of euphoric East Germans swept past him into West Berlin to get their first taste of freedom.

Harald Jaeger said in an interview with Reuters that he spent hours before his history-changing decision trying in vain to get guidance from superiors on what to do about the 20,000 protesters at his border crossing clamouring to get out.

When he had had enough of being laughed at, ridiculed and told by commanders to sort it out for himself, Jaeger ordered the 46 armed guards under his command to throw open the barrier.

He then stepped back and cried — tears of relief that the stand-off had ended without violence, tears of frustration that his superiors had left him in the lurch and tears of despair from a man who had so long believed in the Communist ideal.

He had joined the border guard unit in 1961. Over 28 years, he saw the barrier grow from an infancy of coiled barbed wire, to a brick wall and then to maturity as a towering 160 Km (100 mile) double white concrete screen that encircled West Berlin, cutting across streets, between families, through graveyards — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights, Technology

Australian government warrantless data requests pass 500,000

Requests from government agencies for Australian telecommunications customers’ phone, internet, and address data surpassed 500,000 in the last financial year, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The figure was revealed in the ACMA’s annual report (PDF) released this month. It says that there were 563,012 authorisations granted to government agencies for access to telecommunications metadata in the 2013-14 financial year.

Under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, government agencies can force telecommunications companies to hand over details about their customers, including address, phone number, IP address, call data, SMS data, and other held information without a warrant for the purpose of enforcing the law.

The ACMA recorded that total disclosures amounted to 748,079 for the financial year including to law enforcement for a range of reasons, such as to avert a threat to life, assist the ACMA, or enforce the criminal law of a foreign country.

The number of requests by far exceeds the more than 300,000 requests made in the 2012-13 financial year reported by the Attorney-General’s Department in its Telecommunications (Interception and Access) report last year. The report for this year has yet to be tabled in parliament.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department had not responded to a request for comment on the disparity at the time of writing; however, security agencies such as the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) are not required to publicly report the number of metadata access requests they make.

The department told The Guardian that the difference between the two figures was due to the department only counting the authorisation for a particular person’s details. So if the request is made to multiple telcos for that one person’s information, the access request is only counted as one from that particular government agency. The ACMA has compiled its report based on data from the telcos themselves, leading to the higher figure — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics

Obituary: Gough Whitlam

Australia’s 21st prime minister and a titan of the Australian Labor Party, Edward Gough Whitlam, has died, aged 98.

Mr Whitlam leaves a legacy of unprecedented and unmatched change in Australian politics.

Arguably, he was as much lauded for his reformist leadership and eloquence as he was lambasted for his autocratic style and profligacy.

But it is for being at the centre of Australia’s most ferocious political storm, the Dismissal, that Gough Whitlam will forever be remembered — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Photo credit: Australian Information Service, National Library of Australia collection

Politics

Three things must change for a healthier democracy

There are three drivers in Australian politics — the parties, the voting system and the media — that are all connected and self-supporting. And all are conspiring to hollow out our democracy, writes Tim Dunlop.

To listen in on any halfway serious discussion of politics these days is to eavesdrop on a cacophony of dissatisfaction. Issues come and go, but the underlying unease remains no matter how much we vent or how many logical arguments we make about a given issue.

The reason the whole kabuki is so unsatisfactory is because we spend too much time worrying about the day-to-day issues rather than addressing the underlying drivers of our problems.

There are a number of these drivers, but three in particular need our attention if we are ever to move out of the rut we are in. All three are all intimately connected — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics

Ill-judged politics underlies Clover attacks

New South Wales now: the new state of business. Really? Could they have found anything clunkier? Could their graphic be more redolent of some rock-jawed 1950s Texas oil-co?

Yet it is disturbingly apt, for a state so rusted-on to last-century values. A state ruled, it now seems, by an elephant-shooter, whose parliamentary office grins with the stuffed corpses of his victims. A state whose best chance now of a green future lies with China.

Excepting Sydney City, Clover Moore’s Sydney sits in Abbott’s Australia like an oasis of spring growth in a slag-heap. While Abbott snubs United Nations climate talks, scraps the carbon price and deliberately undermines renewables, the city has reduced its emissions by 21 per cent, retrofitted much of its building stock, installed LED streetlights throughout, pioneered trigeneration and, despite relentless derision, built bike-lanes.

Measured by achievement, Clover is hands down the best mayor this city has had. But she, too, is firmly in the elephant shooter’s sights.

Robert Borsak’s City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Amendment Bill, known colloquially as the Elephant Shooter’s Bill, became law last month. It is designed to maximise the business vote by replacing one optional vote per business with two compulsory votes.

The government says it is not about Clover. They said that, too, about the last law they passed, two years ago, to oust her from parliament. (Clover jokes grimly that she is probably the only person in Australia to have provoked two statutes designed to bar her from public life.)

Yet the gentlemen protest too much. During one day of parliamentary debate on the bill, the lord mayor scored fully ninety-eight mentions. No other local politician was mentioned once.

Borsak himself is less coy, telling parliament in his second reading speech that he wanted to remove Ms Moore as Sydney Lord Mayor.

It’s easy to see Borsak’s motives. He likes limelight, couldn’t care less about the city and wants revenge for the 28 parliamentary years through which Clover steadfastly opposed the gun lobby. She doesn’t support us, we don’t support her, he says. Bush justice.

Government support is more mysterious. Business itself was content — even Alan Jones noted they weren’t exactly marching in the streets — and many Liberals, including Sydney Business Chamber head (and former MLC) Patricia Forsythe, believe the new law undemocratic.

The Melbourne model, on which it is based, has few defenders. Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle insists that city planning is just about property rights and 50 new towers are now pending, but a recent review by former federal Liberal MP Petro Georgiou describes this two-votes-per-business model as deeply flawed, and recommends its abandonment.

In NSW parliament, Premier Mike Baird also seemed embarrassed by the blatant breach of the one-entity-one-vote principle. Former premier Barry O’Farrell was openly derisive. Yet they both voted for it. So where is Borsak’s power base?

Rogue media. Here again, Borsak is disarmingly frank, explicitly thanking both Alan Jones and the Tele for campaigns waged on his behalf. The man may not be sophisticated, but he knows how to stiffen a floppy premier.

Needless to say, however, Borsak did not hatch this ugly duckling alone. It was brought to him, already mangled, by failed Liberal mayoral candidate and current city councillor Edward Mandla — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights

Call that a sword? This is a joke

tephen King once wrote that horror and humour were two of the most difficult story forms to master, because funny gone wrong is almost always horrifying, while a bungled horror story runs the risk of eliciting shrieks of laughter in place of terror.

It didn’t take long for the narrative threads of Death Cult in the Suburbs to unravel and the snickering to begin. And so we find, a few weeks after September’s terror raids, that the mystery sword that featured so prominently in everybody’s fever dreams of jihad come to Martin Place was not in fact the mighty blade of slashening; woe be unto the infidel. It was just a plastic toy, according to its owner. A replica artefact, as common in Shiite Muslim households as sun-faded happy snaps of Pope St John Paul II in the homes of Polish Catholics.

I guess it’s a lucky thing the raids only turned up a plastic sword then. What if those 800 cops had found a toy light sabre? The headlines would have screamed ISIS develops terrifying Stars Wars capability. The SAS might have been despatched to Tatooine.

There was always something dodgy about the scale of those raids, especially given the thin pickings they seemed to turn up. Very few arrests and now a prime piece of evidence negated.

Note the air quotes around the term evidence, though. The sword, which promised such horror in so many published, shared and retweeted photos, never made it into court.

If all the world’s a stage, it was a prop and the hundreds of citizens whose homes were raided weren’t even players. They were extras. Not even bit players, like the sailor whose story of being attacked while in uniform, perhaps because he was in uniform, was revealed as a bizarre fantasy, but only after that story had turned the crank on tensions a few notches further.

There’s something at play here that isn’t as simple a narrative as good v evil. For instance, in the month that Daash killers cut the heads off three captives on the internet, our Saudi Arabian allies publicly decapitated eight for various crimes including adultery, apostasy and sorcery. Woe be unto you, Harry Potter.

Our particular malady is not even a politics as theatre, however. Although Tony Abbott and the media are playing the terror card for all it’s worth and more, there are legitimate security issues buried somewhere beneath the witless hysteria, fear-mongering and click bait.

It’s fraught and complex, and the pity of our current derangement is that it not only prevents us from seeing this and dealing with the threat, it aggravates the condition — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights, Technology

Australian Government Scrambles to Authorise Mass Surveillance

This week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott used recent terrorist threats as the backdrop of a dire warning to Australians that for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more restrictions on some, so that there can be more protection for others.

This pronouncement came as two of a series of three bills effecting that erosion of freedoms made their way through Australia’s Federal Parliament. These were the second reading of a National Security Amendment Bill which grants new surveillance powers to Australia’s spy agency, ASIO, and the first reading of a Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill that outlaws speech seen as advocating terrorism. A third bill on mandatory data retention is expected to be be introduced by the end of the year.

Whilst all three bills in this suite raise separate concerns, the most immediate concern—because the bill in question could be passed this week — is the National Security Amendment Bill. Introduced into Parliament on 16 July, it endured robust criticism during public hearings last month that led into an advisory report released last week. Nevertheless the bill was introduced into the Senate this Tuesday with the provisions of most concern still intact.

In simple terms, the bill allows law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to access data from a computer—so far, so good. But it redefines a computer to mean not only one or more computers but also one or more computer networks. Since the Internet itself is nothing but a large network of computer networks, it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that the bill may stealthily allow the spy agency to surveil the entire Internet with a single warrant.

Apart from allowing the surveillance of entire computer networks, the bill also allows the addition, deletion or alteration of data stored on a computer, provided only that this would not materially interfere with, interrupt or obstruct a communication in transit or the lawful use by other persons of a computer unless … necessary to do one or more of the things specified in the warrant. Given the broad definition of computer, this provision is broad enough to authorise website blocking or manipulation, and even the insertion of malware into networks targeted by the warrant — via redwolf.newsvine.com

Politics, Rights, Technology, World

New Zealand denies it was planning mass domestic spying

New Zealand was preparing to conduct national covert surveillance last year, a US investigative journalist has said.

The claims by former Guardian newspaper reporter Glenn Greenwald were denied by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

The report was based on information disclosed by former US National Security Authority (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, who said the government had planned to exploit new spying laws.

The revelations come just days ahead of a New Zealand general election — via redwolf.newsvine.com