Business, Politics, Rights, Technology

Copyright infringement is terrorism, screech the revolution’s losers

You might have thought that Australia’s debate over online copyright infringement couldn’t get any sillier. But this week the journalists’ union came out as a fan of internet censorship, only to withdraw when they realised what they’d done. And Village Roadshow equated copyright infringement with terrorism and paedophilia, and came out in support of, oh, moonbats or something. Hard to say.

Village Roadshow’s submission (PDF) to the government’s copyright infringement discussion paper is the loopiest, with so much shouting and whining that it’s hard to take their hyperbole seriously.

The dangers posed by piracy are so great, the goal should be total eradication or zero tolerance. Just as there is no place on the internet for terrorism or paedophilia, there should be no place for theft that will impact the livelihoods of the 900,000 people whose security is protected by legitimate copyright, the submission says.

Oh get a grip.

The tone is clearly that of Village Roadshow’s co-CEO Graham Burke, whose manner at the best of times can most generously be described as eccentric. But to equate the abstract problem of a reduction in your profit margin with the damage done to the victims of child sexual abuse and the slaughter of innocents? That takes some chutzpah — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Leaked paper reveals Australia’s obsessive metadata secrecy

Last Friday, the Australian Attorney-General’s Department sent internet service providers (ISPs) a confidential discussion paper — subsequently leaked to Fairfax Media — that attempts to clarify exactly what metadata they’ll be required to store under the government’s proposed mandatory data-retention scheme. The detailed requirements are presumably designed to feed into the statutory specification of metadata that will be included in legislation to be introduced to parliament in coming weeks.

Until now, the only official government description of metadata we’d seen — apart from that breathtakingly confused TV performance by Australia’s favourite Attorney-General Senator George Brandis QC — was the hilariously inadequate one-pager (PDF) that the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) tabled in Senate Estimates on October 15, 2012, after much prodding by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

You might therefore think that the description of the government’s metadata needs in Friday’s document was a recent development.

You’d be wrong.

A confidential document obtained by ZDNet shows that even more detailed descriptions of the government’s data-collection ambitions had been discussed with ISPs as far back as early 2010.

The document, Carrier-Carriage Service Provider Data Set Consultation Paper version 1.0 (PDF), is a 16-page PDF file created on 9 March 2010, at 14:49. Its core sections are similar in structure to the nine-page document obtained by Fairfax Media this week, with the addition of tables of sample data to further illustrate the expected type of data to be retained for each specific retention requirement from the data set, discussion questions for industry to answer, and an introductory background section rather than an executive summary.

The 2010 version of the document was quite specific about the data to be collected. For mobile calls, for example, the data would include the IMSI and IMEI of both the calling party’s and called party’s devices, whereas the current version simply specifies the identifier(s) of the devices. This is in line with the government’s intention to make the legislation technology neutral.

References to web-browser sessions and file transfers that were in the 2010 version have vanished, too, in line with such ideas being dropped as the data-retention debate has evolved — via

Politics, Rights

Al Jazeera journalists teargassed by security forces – in Ferguson, Missouri, USA

Here is a sentence that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever followed even a little news out of the Middle East:

Journalists from the Qatari news outlet Al Jazeera were attacked by state security forces today and blanketed in tear gas, as they attempted to film an ongoing protest; this is the latest in a string of attacks on journalists by security forces.

Now see if you can guess the country. It’s not Egypt. Not Tunisia.

Nope: this happened, exactly as described, in the United States of America on Wednesday night, in the Missouri town of Ferguson. Here is the video of Al Jazeera America journalists in Ferguson being clearly targeted with tear gas by Ferguson police (apologies for the poor quality) — via

Business, Politics

Meet the Beer Bottle Dictator

Widely regarded as an eccentric bureaucrat, Kent ‘Battle’ Martin approves essentially every beer label in the United States, giving him awesome power over a huge industry.

For years, one man has approved virtually every beer label design in the United States. Among brewers, he’s a tyrant. A legend.

A pedantic pain in the ass.

Brewers and legal experts speak of him in hushed tones, with equal parts irritation and reverence.

He’s the king of beer. His will is law, said one lawyer who works with him regularly. The lawyer asked to remain anonymous, for fear of crossing the beer specialist. There’s one dude in the government who gets to control a multibillion-dollar industry with almost no supervision.

And he goes by the name Battle.

Any brewery that wants to market its wares in this country needs to get it through Kent Battle Martin, giving the federal official extraordinary power. With only vague regulations outlining what is and isn’t permissible, he approves beer bottles and labels for the Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, a section of the Treasury Department.

Those who have interacted with him describe him as brusque, eccentric, clenched. He is tensely and formally dressed on all occasions, with an encyclopedic memory of beer labels. He is bespectacled and somewhat awkward.

This year, Battle has singlehandedly approved over 29,500 beer labels, the only fact his press handler would provide. The TTB would not even provide basic biographical details about the famed regulator, much less make him available for an interview — via


WikiLeaks Victorian Court injunction suppression order

The penchant of Victorian courts for throwing suppression orders around like confetti came unstuck overnight with WikiLeaks publishing an injunction by the Victorian Supreme Court. Victorian courts have a history of being willing to issue gag orders.

The revelation is reminiscent of the running battle between sites like WikiLeaks, social media, British MPs and UK courts up until 2011. Superinjunctions developed as a legal manoeuvre exploiting the British Human Right Act 1998, which established a right to privacy binding on government bodies, and were frequently used by celebrities anxious to prevent the feral UK tabloids from revealing private information. However, large companies began using them as well, as a superinjunction prevented even the reporting of the existence of an injunction. WikiLeaks was one of the organisations to out the multinational company Trafigura, which had used a superinjunction to prevent mainstream revelations of its dumping of toxic waste in Africa. London law firm Carter-Ruck became notorious for its use of superinjunctions, but badly overplayed its hand on Trafigura when it tried to use them to ban reporting of parliamentary questions about Trafigura, leading to a social media backlash — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Brandis proposes website blocking and piracy crackdown

A leaked discussion paper from both Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has floated the possibility of websites being blocked, and measures to compel ISPs to take steps to prevent their customers infringing on copyright online.

Five months after first flagging a crackdown was on its way, Brandis appears to be pushing ahead with plans to crack down on Australians using programs such as BitTorrent to obtain copyright-infringing content such as TV shows, music, and films.

The discussion paper, leaked to Crikey, had been expected to be released this month, following Brandis meeting with representatives in the US and UK governments on their respective copyright infringement deterrence schemes.

It outlines a number of potential legislative measures the government can implement to deter what the paper said is a long standing issue with Australians having high illegal download rates.

The government states in the document that it believes even if an ISP doesn’t have a direct power to prevent its users from infringing on copyright, there are reasonable steps it can take to deter infringement.

In a move to undo the 2012 High Court judgment that iiNet did not authorise its users’ copyright infringement, the paper proposes amending the Copyright Act to extend authorisation of copyright infringement and the power to prevent infringement would just be one factor the courts would consider in determining whether an ISP was liable for infringement — via

Politics, Technology

Wikipedia blocks US Capitol computers from editing online encyclopaedia after ‘disruptive’ revisions

Wikipedia has imposed a ban on page edits from computers at the US House of Representatives after anonymous changes were made to entries about politicians, businesses and historical events.

In response to what it calls disruptive revisions, Wikipedia has a 10-day ban blocking any editing from an IP address at the US Capitol, which is shared among a number of computers.

One entry referred to former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld as an alien lizard who eats Mexican babies.

Another said that John F Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted on behalf of Fidel Castro.

The ban came after unusual revisions were pointed out by Twitter account @congressedits, which describes itself as a bot that tweets anonymous Wikipedia edits that are made from IP addresses in the US Congress.

The account was created by a software developer named Ed Summers — via

Politics, Rights, World

High Court injunction blocks handover of 153 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka

The High Court has granted an interim injunction to block the handover of 153 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, just hours after the Government confirmed another vessel had been returned.

On Monday the court heard an urgent claim from barristers seeking to protect the group, which includes 32 women and 37 children and is believed to be under the Government’s control at sea.

We argued that the asylum seekers are entitled to have their allegations — claims against the Sri Lankan government — heard and processed in accordance with the law, solicitor George Newhouse said.

The Minister can’t simply intercept them in the night and disappear them — via

Politics, Rights, World

Suspected spy arrested in Germany for passing US information on NSA inquiry

An alleged spy has been arrested in Germany accused of passing the US information from a committee looking into NSA activities.

It has heightened diplomatic tensions between the two countries following allegations in the Edward Snowden leaks that the US electronic spy agency tapped Angela Merkel’s phone along with wider surveillance of German citizens.

The German government has not denied reports by Der Spiegel and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the suspected spy was a double agent and worked for Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND.

The newspapers said the man allegedly passed the US information about a German parliamentary committee’s investigation into the NSA’s activities.

He claimed to have worked with US intelligence since 2012, they reported —

Politics, Science

‘I am a conservationist’ – is Abbott the only person who believes that?

In February 2012, as leader of the Greens, I made a courtesy call on Tony Abbott. He had just pipped Malcolm Turnbull in a party room vote for the leadership of the opposition. He looked straight at me and said, I am an environmentalist! I did not roll my eyes or argue. I had heard the like before. The CEO of Tasmania’s Hydro-Electric Commission, after flooding Lake Pedder and at the height of the controversy over damming the Franklin River, maintained that he was an environmentalist. So have a string of other dam-builders, loggers and gougers of the Earth.

Quite a few embellish this absurdity by calling themselves the true or real environmentalists. Even the Japanese whale killers fire their grenade-tipped harpoons in the name of environmental science.

US president George Bush senior flew to the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 claiming to be the environmental president. One US cartoonist had him being greeted there by three other male heads-of-state with I’m Little Red Riding Hood, I’m Miss Muffet and I’m Goldilocks!.

John Howard went no further than to claim that he was greenish, but Tony Abbott is staking his claim to be the environmental prime minister. In Washington last week he repeated his self-assessment — I am a conservationist — to bewildered journalists — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Rise Up Against Govt Anti-Piracy Plans, ISP Urges

Last month Australia’s Attorney-General George Brandis labeled his citizens the worst pirates on the planet and vowed to help content holders turn that position around. But Brandis’ industry-leaning position soon became clear as he repeatedly refused to answer questions as to whether he’d properly consulted with consumer groups.

Brandis has, however, consulted deeply with the entertainment industries. His proposals for solving the piracy issue are straight out of the MPAA and RIAA cookbook – three strikes and account terminations for errant Internet users plus ISP blockades of torrent and similar sites.

The reason why the debate over these measures has dragged on so long is down to the defeat of the studios in their legal battle against ISP iiNet. That case failed to render the ISP responsible for the actions of its subscribers and ever since iiNet has provided the most vocal opposition to tough anti-piracy proposals. Today, iiNet Chief Regulatory Officer Steve Dalby underlined that stance with a call for consumers to fight back against foreign interests.

The Hollywood Studios have been relentlessly lobbying the Australian Government on a range of heavy-handed solutions, from a three strikes proposal, through to website filtering — none of which take consumers’ interests into account, Dalby explains.

On three strikes, Dalby notes that even though customers will be expected to pick up the bill for its introduction, there’s no evidence that these schemes have curtailed piracy or increased sales in any other country — via

Politics, Rights

Secret tape challenges Manus processing claim

Claims that processing of asylum seekers had been under way for weeks before violence engulfed the Manus Island detention centre are challenged by a secret recording of a meeting of security supervisors as tensions built to crisis point.

During an hour-long briefing of senior staff, the then acting regional manager of security provider G4S, John McCaffery, said he had been told that no refugee-status determinations would take place for the foreseeable future because of lack of funds.

The revelation casts doubt on Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s assertion on January 16 that processing had recommenced on Manus and had been under way for three or four weeks. The recording also reveals that, contrary to stated policy, there were at least three unaccompanied minors among the 1300 detainees on the island before the violence that culminated in the death of Reza Barati and injuries to scores of others — via


Tony Abbott, President of the USA of Australia / Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Most people know John Oliver for his work on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show — but at the end of April, he got his own program: the satirical weekly Last Week Tonight.

In the episode which just aired on HBO, there was an entire segment devoted to our own Tony Abbott. Cue: the national cringe. Abbott is introduced as a hard-lined right wing Prime Minister, who rose to power promising to be pro-business and religiously anti-immigration. Literally: religiously anti-immigration.

With a quote from Abbott to prove it — Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia, Abbott says — the narrator skewers the hypocrisy of a national leader who claims immigration to be against Jesus’ way, even though he was himself born in London.

What is it about Tony Dumb-Dumb that’s led to his current approval rating of 30%? he asks. Could it be that he’s personally insulted everyone else in the country, from women to gays to anyone remotely Irish to elderly cancer-ridden phone sex workers?

And it only ramps up from there — via Junkee


Frances Abbott scholarship: Leanne Whitehouse pressed PM to cut red tape

The managing director of the Whitehouse Institute of Design, who is understood to have personally funded an unadvertised $60,000 scholarship for the prime minister’s daughter, issued a direct plea to Tony Abbott to reduce red tape across the board in higher education at an exclusive event last year, but the institute says any suggestion these remarks were an attempt at lobbying or seeking to interfere with the regulatory process are ridiculous.

The statement follows further revelations published by the independent news site New Matilda that the prime minister attended a champagne reception for the 25th anniversary of the institute where Leanne Whitehouse, the institute’s managing director, delivered a speech to attendees including the prime minister — via

Politics, Rights, World

Students shed clothes and burn debts as push for reform continues

Police on Thursday confiscated a heap of ashes displayed at a Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM) exhibition — allegedly all that remains of US$500 million in pagarés — or debt paper — stolen and burned by artist and activist Francisco Tapia, aka Papas Fritas.

A video by Tapia went viral in student circles earlier this week wherein he confessed to burning the legal papers certifying debt owed by Universidad del Mar students and had thus liberated the students from their debt obligations. The video and its widespread circulation no doubt prompted the police raid at the art exhibit.

It’s over, it’s finished, Tapia said in his impassioned five minute video. You don’t have to pay another peso [of your student loan debt]. We have to lose our fear, our fear of being thought of as criminals because we’re poor. I am just like you, living a shitty life, and I live it day by day — this is my act of love for you.

Although authorities began shutting down Universidad del Mar last year for financial irregularities and encouraged students to seek out alternative universities, the university is still collecting on its student loans.

The destruction of the documents occurred during a toma — student takeover — of the campus and means the embattled university owners must now individually sue each of its students to assure debt payment — a very costly, time-consuming process — via

Politics, Rights

CAWB Welcomes Green Ban

Today, in an extraordinary and rarely seen move, the CFMEU, in response to community pleas for help, has placed an historic Green Ban on Thompson Square, Windsor.

Just as, in the early 1970’s, green bans protected Australian architectural heritage and social history; today this venerable and honourable tradition has been called upon in defence of the oldest remaining public square in Australia.

In the 1970’s green bans occurred against a background of the Askin Government and increasing developer power.  Today’s green ban occurs against a background of eroded environmental protection and diminished heritage safeguards in response to an increasingly powerful developer lobby.

In 2014 the power of development over community concerns is well illustrated by the Windsor Bridge proposal and today’s announcement is made against a backdrop of ICAC investigations into political donations, power and influence; although more sophisticated financial arrangements are evident than the infamous brown paper bags of the past — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Glenn Greenwald: how the NSA tampers with US-made internet routers

But while American companies were being warned away from supposedly untrustworthy Chinese routers, foreign organisations would have been well advised to beware of American-made ones. A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development department is shockingly explicit. The NSA routinely receives — or intercepts — routers, servers and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers.

The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. The NSA thus gains access to entire networks and all their users. The document gleefully observes that some SIGINT tradecraft … is very hands-on (literally!).

Eventually, the implanted device connects back to the NSA. The report continues: In one recent case, after several months a beacon implanted through supply-chain interdiction called back to the NSA covert infrastructure. This call back provided us access to further exploit the device and survey the network.

It is quite possible that Chinese firms are implanting surveillance mechanisms in their network devices. But the US is certainly doing the same — via

Politics, Technology

Australian government likely to standardise on Drupal

The federal government is eyeing the introduction of a government-wide content-management system. The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has indicated its preference is to use the open-source Drupal Web platform and to have the CMS delivered as a cloud service.

The Government Content Management System (GovCMS) is envisaged as an important service offering for Australian Commonwealth Government agencies, the Australian government CTO, John Sheridan, wrote in a blog entry.

GovCMS is intended to support more effective web channel delivery functions within Government, and enable agencies to redirect effort from non-core transactional activities, towards higher-value activities that are more aligned with core agency missions, a draft statement of requirements issued by AGIMO states.

An analysis by AGIMO found that between 182 and 450 websites could be transitioned to GovCMS over four years. The use of an open source solution means that Drupal modules could be shared between public sector agencies and the community, the draft states.

A transition to GovCMS will begin with and, the document states. The target go-live date is September this year — via


NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to resign over ‘massive memory fail’ at ICAC

New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell says he will resign owing to a massive memory fail when giving evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) yesterday.

Mr O’Farrell made the announcement after a handwritten note was produced today in which he thanks an executive from a water company for the gift of a $3000 bottle of Grange wine.

The note was addressed to Australian Water Holdings (AWH) executive Nick Di Girolamo and tendered as evidence at ICAC this morning.

Mr O’Farrell, who was recalled to ICAC this afternoon, told the inquiry that he could not recall receiving the bottle, even after reading his handwritten note.

In evidence yesterday, Mr O’Farrell denied receiving the wine at all, telling the inquiry: I’m not a wine connoisseur — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Border Protection forces Facebook content removal through Twitter

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has succeeded in having a member of the public remove a post from her Facebook wall that a spokesperson has said targeted a staff member within the department.

On Friday, in a series of Tweets from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s official Twitter account, the department asked Vanessa Powell, a teacher and a volunteer on community radio, to remove a Facebook post that “contains an offensive remark directed at a staff member” from a man named George Georgiadis — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Dob in your tweeting mate at work? So much for free speech

There is no case, none, to limit debate about the performance of national leaders. The more powerful people are, the more important the presumption must be that less powerful people should be able to say exactly what they think of them.

That’s the Tony Abbott of 2012, addressing his friends at the Institute for Public Affairs. What a difference a couple of years makes.

New guidelines from the department of prime minister and cabinet threaten employees with discipline if they are critical or highly critical of the department, the minister or the prime minister on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Flickr, blogs, or anywhere much else.

Note that the policy applies to posts in a personal capacity — even those made anonymously — and that public servants are urged to dob in any colleagues they might recognise.

If an employee becomes aware of another employee who is engaging in conduct that may breach this policy, the edict explains, there is an expectation that the employee will report the conduct to the ­department.

Tim Wilson, then head of the IPA, was in the audience for Abbott’s freedom wars speech. Surely our self-proclaimed freedom commissioner will denounce measures muzzling public servants?

Not so much, no.

There is nothing inconsistent with free speech and having codes of conduct or policies as a condition of employment that require professional, respectful behaviour in their role and the public domain, Wilson told the Daily Telegraph.

Elsewhere, Wilson explicitly rejects the charge that he cares only about the rights of the most powerful. Free speech is for everyone, he says. But his support for the restrictions on employees illustrates that, by everyone, he means something more like everyone I know — via


Britain is treating journalists as terrorists – believe me, I know

Free speech and freedom of the press are under attack in the UK. I cannot return to England, my country, because of my journalistic work with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and at WikiLeaks. There are things I feel I cannot even write. For instance, if I were to say that I hoped my work at WikiLeaks would change government behaviour, this journalistic work could be considered a crime under the UK Terrorism Act of 2000.

The act gives a definition of terrorism as an act or threat designed to influence the government, that is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause and that would pose a serious risk to the health or safety of a section of the public. UK government officials have continually asserted that this risk is present with the disclosure of any classified document.

Elsewhere the act says the government means the government of any country — including the US. Britain has used this act to open a terrorism investigation relating to Snowden and the journalists who worked with him, and as a pretext to enter the Guardian’s offices and demand the destruction of their Snowden-related hard drives. Britain is turning into a country that can’t tell its terrorists from its journalists.

The recent judgment in the Miranda case proves this. David Miranda was assisting journalist Glenn Greenwald and transited through Heathrow with journalists’ documents when he was held under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act last summer. Schedule 7 means a person can be stopped and detained at a UK port for up to nine hours and affords no right to silence. It compels you to answer questions and give up any documents you possess, and so forced Miranda to hand over his Snowden documents. Subsequently Miranda fought a case against the UK government over the legality of his detainment, to show how this act infringes upon journalists’ ability to work freely. Outrageously, the court found politically transparent excuses to ignore the well-defined protections for freedom of expression (PDF) in the European convention on human rights.

If Britain is going to investigate journalists as terrorists take and destroy our documents, force us to give up passwords and answer questions — how can we be sure we can protect our sources? But this precedent is now set; no journalist can be certain that if they leave, enter or transit through the UK this will not happen to them. My lawyers advise me not to return home — via


Tony Abbott takes a grilling from a group of high school students

The crowd proved to be tougher than those who appear on Q&A when the prime minister, Tony Abbott, wandered over to talk to a group of students in the grounds of Parliament House on Friday.

After a few pleasantries, he told the year 9 students from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts he would take three questions.

Three zingers came in quick succession, on the carbon tax, gay marriage and asylum seekers, with each question being greeted by the students with rousing cheers — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Australian government departments want to keep power to censor websites

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC), and one unnamed agency have indicated to the government that they would likely seek to keep using powers in the Telecommunications Act to force ISPs to block websites.

In April 2013, following a bungle by ASIC that resulted in accidentally blocking customer access to 250,000 websites for at least two ISPs — when the agency was just seeking to block websites associated with investment fraud — it was revealed that three Commonwealth government agencies had been using Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to compel ISPs to block customer access to websites on their behalf.

Following public backlash, and amid cries of censorship and criticism over the lack of transparency over the power, the then-Labor government promised to review the power, and improve the oversight and transparency of the process.

At the time, despite the controversy, it seems that internally, agencies had indicated to the government that they intended to continue using the power. A briefing document from a meeting convened by the Department of Communications in May 2013, and published online yesterday under Freedom of Information revealed that the three agencies the department had discovered to be using section 313 to block websites indicated their intention to use Section 313(3) in a similar way in the future.

The heavily redacted briefing document showed that the AFP had used the power 21 times between June 2011 and February 2013 to request ISPs to block websites listed on the Interpol worst of child abuse websites, and would continue to do so in the future.

The document also stated that the AFP may have also used the power to combat some spam and phishing sites. AFP deputy commissioner Michael Phelan said last year that this is not an efficient method of dealing with malware sites.

ASIC was also listed as intending to use the power again — via

Politics, Rights, World

Scotland’s same-sex marriage bill is passed

A bill which allows same-sex weddings to take place in Scotland has been passed by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

MSPs voted by 105 to 18 in favour of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

The Scottish government said the move was the right thing to do but Scotland’s two main churches were opposed to it.

The first gay and lesbian weddings could take place this autumn.

Religious and belief bodies can opt in to perform same-sex marriages.

Ministers said no part of the religious community would be forced to hold such ceremonies in churches — via


Abbott’s ABC outburst doesn’t stand up

Tony Abbott’s tirade against the ABC betrays a deeply flawed view of the role of the Australian media in general and the national broadcaster in particular. Worse still, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

That it comes from a man who has always expressed pride in his past life as a professional journalist makes the outburst all the more puzzling — and invites the conclusion that another agenda is at play here.

The Prime Minister’s main concern is that the ABC appears to take everybody’s side but our own, and lacks at least some basic affection for the home team.

This astonishing proposition — that coverage should be somehow skewed by nationalism, or patriotism — sits uncomfortably with the ideals of a robust democracy with a free, fair and fearless media.

As the Prime Minister knows, it is not the ABC’s job to take sides, but to report fairly and accurately. Like any media organisation in the digital world, it is also to interpret, analyse and explain — via

Politics, Rights

An $8,000 Gag Visa

The Nauruan parliament has endorsed a 3,900 per cent increase in the visa application fee for journalists — making it prohibitively expensive for the media to report from the Pacific island republic where Australia now detains hundreds of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

Under the new fee structure, which is expected to come into force this week, it will cost media professionals $8,000 to apply for a single-entry visa valid for up to three months. The money would not be refunded even if the application were rejected.

Presently, journalists can apply for a subclass of business visa for media workers. The Nauru government website says the fee is $200.

Nauru’s Principal Immigration Officer Ernest Stephen told The Global Mail that $200 is the application fee for a single-entry visa for up to three months and that journalists could pay $400 to apply for a one-year multiple-entry visa.

Mr Stephen said the new $8,000 fee had been approved by the Nauruan parliament but would not be implemented until it had been gazetted, which he expected to happen in the next couple of days.

Single-entry three-month tourist visas cost $100 — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Turkish police fire tear gas, rubber bullets in protests against internet control, corruption

Riot police in Turkey have fired tear gas, rubber bullets and used water cannons on demonstrators in Istanbul and Ankara protesting against government plans to impose curbs on the internet.

Rights groups say the proposals, which were approved by parliament last week, amount to censorship and will increase government control of the internet.

Up to 2,000 protesters chanted government resign and all united against fascism at Istanbul’s Taksim Square, some of them hurling fireworks and stones at police.

Everywhere Taksim, everywhere resistance, they shouted, using the slogan of last June’s anti-government protests that first erupted in the square.

The demonstration was organised in protest at plans to impose curbs on the internet and over the graft scandal rocking the government.

It broke up after the police action without any immediate reports of injuries or arrests — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Teen Reported to Police After Finding Security Hole in Website

A teenager in Australia who thought he was doing a good deed by reporting a security vulnerability in a government website was reported to the police.

Joshua Rogers, a 16-year-old in the state of Victoria, found a basic security hole that allowed him to access a database containing sensitive information for about 600,000 public transport users who made purchases through the Metlink web site run by the Transport Department. It was the primary site for information about train, tram and bus timetables. The database contained the full names, addresses, home and mobile phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and a nine-digit extract of credit card numbers used at the site, according to The Age newspaper in Melbourne.

Rogers says he contacted the site after Christmas to report the vulnerability but never got a response. After waiting two weeks, he contacted the newspaper to report the problem. When The Age called the Transportation Department for comment, it reported Rogers to the police.

It’s truly disappointing that a government agency has developed a website which has these sorts of flaws, Phil Kernick, of cyber security consultancy CQR, told the paper. So if this kid found it, he was probably not the first one. Someone else was probably able to find it too, which means that this information may already be out there.

The paper doesn’t say how Rogers accessed the database, but says he used a common vulnerability that exists in many web sites. It’s likely he used a SQL injection vulnerability, one of the most common ways to breach web sites and gain access to backend databases — via

History, Politics, Rights

Burglars Who Took On FBI Abandon Shadows

The perfect crime is far easier to pull off when nobody is watching.

So on a night nearly 43 years ago, while Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier bludgeoned each other over 15 rounds in a televised title bout viewed by millions around the world, burglars took a lock pick and a crowbar and broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in a suburb of Philadelphia, making off with nearly every document inside.

They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the FBI against dissident groups.

The burglary in Media, Pennsylvania, on 8 March 1971, is a historical echo today, as disclosures by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J Snowden have cast another unflattering light on government spying and opened a national debate about the proper limits of government surveillance. The burglars had, until now, maintained a vow of silence about their roles in the operation. They were content in knowing that their actions had dealt the first significant blow to an institution that had amassed enormous power and prestige during J Edgar Hoover’s lengthy tenure as director.

When you talked to people outside the movement about what the FBI was doing, nobody wanted to believe it, said one of the burglars, Keith Forsyth, who is finally going public about his involvement. There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting — via


Sexiste et beauf : voici Tony Abbott, nouveau premier ministre australien

C’est ce qu’on appelle un tour de magie politique. Ce samedi, Tony Abbott a conduit à la victoire sa coalition conservatrice, et devient premier ministre de l’Australie à l’issue des élections législatives.

S’il n’avait pas eu face à lui des travaillistes divisés, cette victoire n’aurait pas été si simple. Dans le passé, il avait même été surnommé « Monsieur Inéligible » par l’un des cadres du parti libéral.

Et en 2007, un ancien ambassadeur américain l’avait aussi critiqué dans une note publiée par WikiLeaks. Il disait que c’était un « homme marqué très à droite et qui polarise » et qu’il avait une « forte propension à se montrer insensible et à provoquer la controverse ».

Pour dire les choses plus clairement, à lire les sorties d’Abbott, on a parfois simplement l’impression d’avoir à fait à un gros beauf. Retour sur lesdites controverses

via Google Translate:

This is called a tower political magic. Saturday, Tony Abbott led to his conservative coalition victory and became prime minister of Australia’s parliamentary elections.

If he had not had to face him Labor divided, this victory would not have been so simple. In the past, he had even been nicknamed Mr Ineligible by one of the executives of the Liberal party.

And in 2007, a former US ambassador had also criticised in a note published by WikiLeaks. He said it was a marked man very right and biases and had a strong tendency to be insensitive and provoke controversy.

To put it more clearly, read Abbott outputs, sometimes simply seem to have quite a big redneck. Return on such controversies

— via

Politics, Rights, Technology

Hosting what the Govt won’t: Delimiter establishes AGD FoI mirror

Technology media outlet Delimiter today revealed it would establish a free file-serving mirror of PDF documents published under Freedom of Information laws by the Attorney-General’s Department and relevant to the technology sector, in the wake of confirmation by the department that it has removed such documents from its website.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, all government departments and agencies covered by the legislation must provide a way for the public to access documents which any party has requested under the legislation. This means that if individuals make FoI requests of government organisations, that that information will eventually reach the public domain and be accessible to all.

Almost all Federal Government organisations — including some government business enterprises such as NBN Co — interpret the act to mean that they must publish documents released under the FoI act in a disclosure log on their website. The Attorney-General’s Department, which contains FoI oversight as part of its portfolio, has historically done this.

However, the department recently removed PDF documents relating to FoI requests from its website, forcing those seeking access to the documents to email or otherwise communicate with it directly. This has substantially reduced access to a number of sensitive documents — via

Politics, Rights, World

Tony Abbott’s stance on Sri Lanka’s human rights craven and irresponsible

Prime Minister Tony Abbott came to Sri Lanka to praise President Mahinda Rajapakse, not to bury him under the weight of human rights abuse allegations that completely dominated this Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

We are here to praise as much as judge, he told the forum’s opening meeting, lauding the ending of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and the development in the country since.

For his fealty, he was rewarded. Sri Lanka has vowed to further help Mr Abbott with his No.1 domestic priority, stopping the boats of asylum seekers looking to go to Australia.

The countries’ existing co-operation has been extended, with Australia giving Sri Lanka two patrol boats, so that asylum seekers might be intercepted before they leave Sri Lankan waters.

(The inconvenient truth that navy sailors have been arrested and charged with running the biggest people-smuggling ring in the country is being, publicly at least, downplayed.)

Mr Abbott came to CHOGM, a meeting of 53 member nations, with an entirely domestic agenda. He needed Sri Lankan support to combat people smuggling, and so was unwilling to criticise his hosts.

While human rights concerns — forced abductions, torture, and extrajudicial killings by state forces, land seizures by the military and oppression of political opponents — dominated every public CHOGM event, Mr Abbott sidestepped these at every turn — via

Politics, Rights, World

The Impossible Refugee Boat Lift to Christmas Island

I first heard about the passage from Indonesia to Australia in Afghanistan, where I live and where one litmus test for the success of the US-led war now drawing to a close is the current exodus of civilians from the country. (The first boat people to seek asylum in Australia were Vietnamese, in the mid-1970s, driven to the ocean by the fallout from that American withdrawal.) Last year, nearly 37,000 Afghans applied for asylum abroad, the most since 2001. Afghans who can afford to will pay as much as $24,000 for European travel documents and up to $40,000 for Canadian. (Visas to the United States, generally, cannot be bought.) Others employ smugglers for arduous overland treks from Iran to Turkey to Greece, or from Russia to Belarus to Poland.

The Indonesia-Australia route first became popular in Afghanistan before 11 September, mostly among Hazaras, a predominantly Shiite ethnic minority that was systematically brutalized by the Taliban. After the Taliban were overthrown, many refugees, anticipating an enduring peace, returned to Afghanistan, and for a while the number of Afghans willing to risk their lives at sea declined. But by late 2009 — with Afghans, disabused of their optimism, fleeing once more — migration to Australia escalated. At the same time, Hazaras living across the border in Pakistan, many of whom moved there from Afghanistan, have also found relocation necessary. In a sectarian crusade of murder and terror being waged against them by Sunni extremists, Hazara civilians in the Pakistani city of Quetta are shot in the streets, executed en masse and indiscriminately massacred by rockets and bombs.

I wondered whether anyone else shared my deluded hope: that there was another, larger ship anchored somewhere farther out, and that this sad boat was merely to convey us there.

In 2010, a suicide attacker killed more than 70 people at a Shiite rally in Quetta. Looming directly above the carnage was a large billboard paid for by the Australian government. In Dari, next to an image of a distressed Indonesian fishing boat carrying Hazara asylum seekers, read the words: All illegal routes to Australia are closed to Afghans. The billboard was part of a wide-ranging effort by Australia to discourage refugees from trying to get to Christmas Island. In Afghanistan, a recent Australian-funded TV ad featured a Hazara actor rubbing his eyes before a black background. Please don’t go, the man gloomily implores over melancholic music. Many years of my life were wasted there [in detention] until my application for asylum was rejected. In addition to the messaging campaign (and the hard-line policies it alludes to), Australia has worked to disrupt smuggling networks by collaborating with Pakistan’s notorious intelligence services, embedding undercover agents in Indonesia and offering up to $180,000 for information resulting in a smuggler’s arrest. The most drastic deterrence measure was introduced this July, when the Australian prime minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, announced that henceforth no refugee who reaches Australia by boat would be settled there. Instead, refugees would be detained, and eventually resettled, in impoverished Papua New Guinea. Several weeks later, the resettlement policy was extended to a tiny island state in Micronesia called the Republic of Nauru.

Since then, there have been more boats, more drownings. In late September, a vessel came apart shortly after leaving Indonesia, and dozens of asylum seekers — from Lebanon, Iran and Iraq — drowned. That people are willing to hazard death at sea despite Australia’s vow to send them to places like Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru would seem illogical — or just plain crazy. The Australian government ascribes their persistence partly to misinformation propagated by the smugglers. But every asylum seeker who believes those lies believes them because he chooses to. Their doing so, and continuing to brave the Indian Ocean, and continuing to die, only illustrates their desperation in a new, disturbing kind of light. This is the subtext to the plight of every refugee: Whatever hardship he endures, he endures because it beats the hardship he escaped. Every story of exile implies the sadder story of a homeland — via