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


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


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


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

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com


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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 — redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com


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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 Australia.gov.au and Finance.gov.au, the document states. The target go-live date is September this year — via redwolf.newsvine.com


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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com


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 redwolf.newsvine.com


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 redwolf.newsvine.com

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 redwolf.newsvine.com