Australian Civil Liberties Union
Your Rights 2001
BIG BROTHER REPORT
DNA Tests. Medical data bank. Crime Net. ACLU submissions on Privacy. ASIO. IT Technology and the World Trade Organization. New Federal Privacy Laws. Nanny State. Camera surveillance of dole cheats.
BIG BROTHER REPORT-AN OVERVIEW.
Is there too much surveillance and control in Australia? The ACLU has always been concerned with the rights of victims of crime (see the chapter on rights of victims of crime) and the need to combat tax and social security fraud, and acknowledges that some of the extensions of surveillance and other powers can be justified on a case by case basis. Although Australia by world standards remains a relatively free society (as documented in previous editions of Your Rights)and is not in any significant sense a quasi "police state", the extent of surveillance activity by "men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding", and the use of various mechanisms of social control including media censorship and brainwashing, is creating a quasi totalitarian society in which "progress" is perhaps overvalued, and individualism and privacy are discounted.
During 2000 and early 2001, there was growing pressure to subject suspects, prisoners and even (voluntarily) whole populations in particular areas to DNA tests. There are inadequate safeguards in relation to such texts. Proposals to establish medical data banks threaten the confidentiality of Doctor-patient relationships and have been opposed by the AMA. The ACLU made detailed submissions to Parliamentary committees on new Federal Privacy laws, new powers for ASIO,and IT technology.
The ACLU also made comments on TV programs, such as "A Current Affair" and newspapers such as the Herald Sun in relation to the new Internet site "CrimeNet". The ACLU said "CrimeNet" was a threat to privacy, would make the rehabilitation of offenders more difficult, and would lead to trials being aborted if jurors had access to the prior convictions of an accused. An amendment to Federal law seems to have given soldiers greater powers to fire on demonstrators. The ACLU suggested the heading for an article in Herald Sun headed "The Nanny State", which dealt with the need to cull many unnecessary laws, and limit the number of new laws impinging on the freedom of the citizen. Although the ACLU criticised demonstrators who tried to stop the World Economic Forum organised by the World Trade Organisation, the ACLU agrees with much of the criticism of the WTO, globalisation, and the exclusion of citizens from the decision making processes leading to globalisation.
The DNA DATA BANK
The DNA data bank proposal for use by police and law enforcement officials to promote a national database of DNA samples taken from criminals and suspects is a cause for concern. The argument is that since every person's DNA is unique, samples of DNA found at the scene of a crime will conclusively identify the culprit.This was apparently the reasoning when, after a rape and bashing of a woman in the town of Wee Waa, NSW, police insisted on taking DNA samples of most of the town's male inhabitants, thus treating them as all potential suspects, arguing that only the guilty need fear a DNA test.
Many of the same cautions, however, apply to this as to a national data base of patients' medical records. It is an invasion of privacy; it violates the principle of "innocent until proven guilty"; and provides an opportunity to "frame" someone by falsification of evidence by dishonest police or other people. Several Royal Commissions in Australia and elsewhere have shown that police can fabricate evidence to get a conviction. Also, the sheer volume of DNA records increases the possibility of error and there appears to be inadequate protection against possible abuse of power by those possessing such DNA records. The recommendation of NSW Privacy Commissioner Chris Puplick that each state or territory should have a privacy commissioner to oversee DNA records has been ignored by police officials.
Scientific evidence may not be infallible. Lindy Chamberlain had a long and expensive battle to clear her name and the Irish bombing cases in UK were mishandled.It is a matter for concern, in view of possible abuse of the scheme, that a UK police officer, Robin Napper, has come to Australia to try and promote extended DNA databases in NSW and by the national Federal CrimTrac data-base system. In May 2000 the NSW government will introduce laws enforcing mandatory testing of suspects.
The Federal government has undertaken to remove from its DNA database those cleared of suspicion, to give access only to authorised officers and sentence anyone misusing data samples to two years' jail. But since much of this material is hidden from checking by sources outside the police, it can be open to abuse. And the case of a suspect in the Claremont killings investigation in Perth, who was cleared by DNA testing, did not lead him to escape police attention. He was still watched and pursued by police.The new technology may promise conclusive evidence of crime but can be distorted and abused by corrupt police and officials. It will need proper safeguards before it is established.
MEDICAL RECORDS DATA BANK
Patients' privacy is being threatened by a proposed national data base including details about medical records which could be accessed by other persons, breaching medical confidentiality.The confidentiality of medical information has long been a tradition in medical circles, however it is under challenge now that the suggestion for such a national medical computer listing has received support from federal and state health ministers after a national taskforce examined the proposal last year, but the proposed data bank has been opposed by the Australian Medical Association.More acceptable to the AMA is the concept of a portable computer record the size of a credit card that could be carried by individual patients to provide information for doctors and chemists, but Dr Hacker of the AMA believes it should be the patient's own decision whether or not to have such a card.The AMA discussed electronic health records at its national conference in May, 2000. Opposition health spokeswoman Jenny Macklin favours electronic health records as a quick and convenient way of transmitting information to doctors but opposed a national database.
These suggestions seem to be a fulfillment of a report mentioned in The Age, 23 April,2000, released by the major chartered accountant firm, Price Waterhouse, last year (1999) based on interviews with 400 health care officials,which said that there was a trend towards more use of the Internet, a better informed type of patient and predicted a single, electronic medical history record.The privacy bill before federal parliament lacks adequate safeguards in relation to the proposed data bank. Breaches of privacy should be a criminal offense, privacy commissioners should have more authority and have more potent audit powers over the suggested database. The recommendation to have a national data base will make both doctors and patients reluctant to supply information on the public record, especially if it is damaging to the patient's interests.
A national medical data base does have some redeeming features. It could be useful in compiling national medical statistics, would be useful in an emergency and could track patients who go from one doctor to another. Even apart from the privacy issue, such a database may contain inaccurate information that could harm health users. The positive aspect is that, if such a national data base were to eventuate, it could provide patients with a better understanding of their health assessments and a more informed public.
PUBLIC ACCESS TO SECRET HOSPITAL RECORDS
The Victorian Health Minister,John Thwaites,has announced a plan to make public hospital records available to determine infection rates and individual patients would be guaranteed access to their own personal medical records. Mr Thwaites said that supplying hospital records would not involve mentioning individual doctors or patients in the pursuit of Performance objectives. "Their aim is to find system-wide problems, not to establish a league table of individual doctors.These sweeping reforms will make the health system more open and accountable and patients will be more confident in the system if they have more information available to them".Such a system could have some merit, especially when it is considered that people must currently use freedom of information records to get hospital records.Instead of being just a closed record, such computer listed records can be made available. Other recommendations accepted by the Victorian government included provision of an Internet site listing hospital waiting list lengths and ending the current bed cap on private hospitals and day procedure centres. A consumer call centre will be given a trial. ROLE OF E.F.A.
A significant role is played by the Internet watchdog E.F.A. (Electronic Frontiers Australia) in outlining the need to police the Internet properly. In devising any system of the Internet to protect consumers while, at the same time, ensuring adequate free speech on the Internet, such an Internet "watchdog" should be consulted by government and the proper balance maintained between protecting consumers on the Net while at the same time, preserving the potential provided by the Internet for fostering and developing the Western tradition of free speech and freedom to communicate ideas freely.
IS CRIME NET A THREAT TO CIVIL LIBERTIES?
The national listing of peoples' criminal records at http://www.crimenet.com.au on the Internet website labelled CrimeNet, claims to be "the world's first site to provide a complete information service on criminal records, stolen property, missing persons, wanted persons, con artists and unsolved crimes." It also assures us that "CrimeNet is the premier source for protecting yourself,your loved ones and your property from crime. Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to protect yourself."
The manager of CrimeNet, Roy Hampton, a former Victorian policeman, has denied that it will violate civil liberties, claiming that the information was on the public record, and simply made availability of information easier. He commented that "if someone has handed over their civil rights by being involved in a major crime then that is their fault and the public has a right to know."
Raymond Hoser, a police reformer who has written several books on corruption in the police force, especially Victoria Police, see his website at http://www.smuggled.com/search.htm
The CrimeNet website says that: "the management and staff (of CrimeNet) are very concerned about the threats made by some politicians and media to close down the CrimeNet site. We believe this to be a threat to the free flow of information in a democratic society, and a threat to your right to arm yourself with knowledge about criminals,criminal activities,con artists and scams. We believe that CrimeNet can give people the knowledge to prevent themselves becoming future victims of crime.
"CrimeNet only publishes information that is on the public record. We simply collate it and make it accessible to the public.It has always been available, in collated form, to government agencies.
"In the criminal records of the site, CrimeNet is concerned with publishing details of serious and dangerous repeat offenders. We do not publish offenders' address details. We do not publish details of minor offences, unless the offender is in a position of public trust, such as a politician (maybe this is why some politicians don't like us) We are ready to discuss with the Privacy Commissioner the removal of details of persons who have not reoffended for a period of years. If you believe in our mission, we ask you to contact your members of parliament and express your support of CrimeNet."
These comments set out the scope of the site and it has been very popular with users, scoring massive numbers of hits. It is also comprehensive. It started with a list of about 4,000 names but is constantly being added to. The CrimeNet operators insist that they are performing a public service. However, civil libertarians have been concerned that the CrimeNet website may pose problems to those persons listed that will violate their personal freedoms. It will make resettlement of offenders back into the community harder, because it is a constant record of their past misdemeanours. The ACLU has already received several complaints from people with criminal records who have settled back into the community and would not like their past to be permanently held against them.The ACLU President, John Bennett, said on Channel 9,on various radio stations, and in the Herald-Sun, 2/5/2000, that it could hurt efforts by criminals to go straight or be used to hound them from their homes.
"It's an invasion of privacy and it could well be misused", he said. "It could make even the choice of a neighbourhood by someone convicted of a crime difficult.Neighbours could access what's on the database, making it difficult for a convicted person to be re-established in the community."It could lead to vigilante action against past offenders.Juries could be biased by having access to information about accused peoples' past convictions. Operators of the website may be charged with contempt of court and trials could be aborted, if the outcome of a trial was likely to be prejudged by this release of information.The site records are set up in such a way that releases on appeal and quashed convictions may not be listed.
Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hull expressed concern with CrimeNet and raised the issue as a matter of priority with attorney-generals in other states and territories. If a newspaper were to publish details of a suspect's past criminal record during a trial, the jurors could be influenced by this and the trial would be halted. According to the President of the Western Australian Council of Civil Liberties, Mr Peter Weygers, two-thirds of people convicted of a crime never offended again, yet this system would ensure that they would be constantly harassed.
According to "Australian IT" in The Australian newspaper, 30/5/00, p. 33, CrimeNet has been declared in contempt of court by the DPP and may be liable for contempt of court in other instances., As a result, CrimeNet is reported to be considering a move to sell the site to overseas interests that is out of range of any liability for "contempt of court", being outside Australian jurisdiction.
ACLU SUBMISSION ON FEDERAL PRIVACY BILL (MAY, 2000)
The ACLU believes the bill will not adequately deal with access to and corrections to data by citizens on whom data is held, with function creep, with remedies for invasion of privacy, with consent to data being forwarded to agencies, or data banks not connected with the original collection of information, and with the many problems associated with data banks such as ACXIOM and Crime Net.Acxiom says it would be happy to remove an individual's name, home or particular data base but how do you opt out of it? You don't know you are in. Companies should be required to disclose to customers if or when they pass on or sell information collected from their customers.
Individuals should have the right to access and then correct information held by data companies which sell consumer profiles. The Privacy Commissioner should have the final power of arbitration on disputes. Where misleading or incorrect information about a person is sold by a data seller and it causes a loss to the person, they should have the right of redress. New laws should deal with information which has already been collected and passed on and provide that citizens should be advised as to what has been passed on.
Some data agencies are likely to be based outside Australia, and data could be sourced from Internet websites and other locations outside the country. This could make regulation particularly hard to administer and make legal redress a more attractive control mechanism. The arrival of Acxiom underlines the need to reconcile the undoubted business potential of sophisticated data collection with what the community considers to be an acceptable degree of personal privacy.
The Economist asked whether there is a method of regulation that would allow the economic benefits of copious information to be enjoyed while still defending privacy for those who value it?A promising approach is to require the information-gatherer to gain permission for subsequent use. This idea informs a recent European Union directive on data promotion. Under the directive consumers have to be notified in advance of how a company would like to use their names and of the information that is attached to them. They can say no to such use; if they say yes, they have the right to know where their data have gone.
The ACLU article headed "Kerry Packer, Axciom and Privacy" sets out some of the privacy problems associated with data banks and possible safeguards to protect privacy. The article is on the ACLU website http://go.to/aclu An article on the website headed "Big Brother Controls" deals with privacy issues generally. Many of the concerns held by the ACLU about data deals will not be addressed by legislation such as the Privacy Amendment Bill.
NEW FEDERAL PRIVACY LAWS
Individuals will be able to inspect and correct personal information already held by private companies under big changes to privacy legislation that passed through the Senate late in 2000. Companies affected include direct-marketing firms and the joint venture between Kerry Packer's Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd and US "data warehouse" specialist Acxiom.
The legislation extends privacy provisions similar to those covering the public sector, banks and telecommunication companies to private industry.It's not a completely self-regulatory regime. It involves a cooperative arrangement under which businesses put in their own codes but there is backup (from the Privacy Commissioner) in case those codes are not in place or don't work.
Under the laws, private organisations that collect personal details will be obliged to seek the consent of individuals if they want to pass them to a third party.They will be required to tell customers how information collected will be used, and to whom it will be disclosed. Individuals will be entitled to complain directly to the Privacy Commissioner if data is not handled in the manner set out under the legislation of individual company's code.The sale or disclosure of personal information collected by or for political parties is also banned.
ACLU SUBMISSION ON ASIO, MAY, 2000
There has been something of a "function creep" in the role of ASIO since the end of the cold war with ASIO taking on some of the activities usually undertaken by State and Federal police forces.The ASIO Legislation Amendment Bill greatly extends the powers and scope of activities of ASIO,with the Olympic Games and the threat of disruption of the games used in part as the reason for the extensions.
The nature of the extensions was set out in a submission by the ACLU in May, 1999 to the Committee of Inquiry. The submission which was headed: "The Olympics, ASIO, Privacy, and Freedom of Speech" was set out in Your Rights 1999,( pages 97-99) and is also here on the ACLU website.
The arguments for these unprecedented extension of powers has been nebulous or non existent, and the arguments have not been subjected to informed public debate. The proposed extensions represent a threat to privacy, freedom of speech and civil liberties.
ASIO already has powers to open peoples' mail, intercept communications, place listening devices in peoples' homes and offices, and tap phones. Under the Bill, ASIO is given powers to obtain emergency warrants, plant tracking devices on people, and hack into computers. For the first time ASIO will have access to taxation files, will have authority to collect foreign intelligence, and will be able to intercept articles delivered by private couriers as well as articles handled by Australia Post.
ASIO will be authorised to crack and modify password control systems and encryption programs in computers, opening the way for the sabotage of web sites, email facilities, and internal communication systems.No one's banking and tax records will anymore be free from political monitoring and ASIO will be able to request and use individual and business taxation and financial transactions data from the Tax Office and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.
For the very nature of its activities ASIO is subject to less public scrutiny and is less accountable than other publicly funded agencies. Some information on ASIO is disclosed through the Senate Estimates process, and through the annual report to parliament of the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence (IGIS). ASIO also reports to Parliament through an annual report and through information brochures available through Govern- ment bookshops.
The ACLU believes that ASIO could be made more accountable if the Director General of ASIO and the IGIS made themselves available for interview on television and radio, and published articles in newspapers and in back to back brochures available at places accessed by the public such as Legal Aid and CentreLink offices. Publications such as "ASIO now", "ASIO Corporate Plan, 1998-2002" and "Report to Parliament 1998-99" although available in Government bookshops, are not as likely to be accessed as articles in newspapers and the brief brochures mentioned above.
Search warrants, authorisations for phone tapping and computer hacking should be subject to the requirement that authorisation be obtained from a Federal Court judge. Where emergency action is taken authorised by the Director General of ASIO, this authorisation should be vetted by a judge, especially in view of the unprecedented quantum leap in the powers and functions of ASIO.
Although as pointed out in the 26th edition of the ACLU publication, Your Rights, Australia is one of the freest countries in the world, and although there is little evidence of any significant abuse of power by ASIO in the recent past, the mechanisms for placing ASIO itself under greater scrutiny and surveillance should be strengthened.
The ACLU agrees with the submission by Electronic Frontiers Australia that ASIO should not have the power to alter or add to data on a computer, and that the use of tracking devices should be limited to 7 days as is currently the case with search warrants. The EFA submission that warrants should require the signature of 3 Ministers, one of whom should be the Attorney General, should be considered, and if adopted would make ASIO more accountable. The ACLU agrees with EFA that the extremely broad nature of this legislation appears to open taxation record to a whole new class of people. At present AUSTRAC information can be released only to taxation, federal police, the National Crime Authority and Customs officers.
ASIO's responsibilities are defined so broadly, and its activities can be carried out so covertly that this gives ASIO virtually carte blanche access to tax information.
EFA is concerned that Parliament may have been asked to take "on trust" that ASIO and its Director General will not abuse these new, sweeping powers over private computers. While a trust in the agencies of a democracy is appropriate, history and the experience of other countries have established that rogue intelligence- gathering agencies are uniquely placed to fabricate evidence, blackmail officials and engage in individual espionage. Only an extra-agency review of these powers can provide safeguards against the possibility of ASIO abusing the powers for the Government of the day, for the agency or an agent's personal purposes.
ACLU SUBMISSION TO SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON I.T.
The ACLU made a submission in August 2000 to the Senate Select Committee on Information Technologies concerning its inquiry into consumer servicing and protection on the Internet and on EFTPOS. The rule of "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) still seems to apply to many of these transactions and the advent of the Internet has broadened the capacity of unscrupulous individuals to cheat and exploit consumers. These consumers need safeguards that will protect them against such exploitation and also publicise the dangers to other would-be purchasers.
Some of these disreputable organizations have worldwide scope, and can exert a great influence. One such organization warned against is Institute for Global Prosperity. At http://www.global-prosperity.com a website warns about the Global Prosperity Group scam and warns that consumers have lost millions of dollars. One remedy for such dangerous scams is for government agencies, especially consumer affairs bureaux, to issue leaflets and booklets warning about such questionable organizations and to include sites on the Internet that can be tapped into for information.
The United States already has these warnings in place,through brochures and websites, and Australia would do well to emulate them..One of the most vulnerable groups are the elderly, who are readily targeted by dishonest telemarketers and those offering bogus "special offers".
Other U.S. websites warn about other dangers for consumers.For example, www.quackwatch.com highlights dangers of alternative medicine. A link from www.quackwatch.com is www.mlmwatch.org which urges consumers to beware of multi-level marketing systems, claiming that the "vast majority of (MLM) people who become distributors do not make significant income" despite the "promises" of "riches" extended to potential joiners. This experience in the U.S. of areas in which consumers face dangers, and the linkup of government departments and consumer agencies in handling complaints is one that Australia could draw on for guidance.
There needs to be adequate safeguards for financial transactions carried out over the web, to ensure that credit card numbers cannot be hacked into and that records of such transactions cannot be transferred without authorisation to third parties, such as mailing lists. By leaving "cookies" at websites, customers provide what can be a permanent record of their transactions, and it is important that other companies do not get hold of this information without approval by the persons concerned, which could lead to "spamming" or junk mail to the annoyance of the user and to invasions of privacy.
The Australian Direct Marketing Association (ADMA)has issued a Standards of Practice statement at http://www.listbank.com.au/adma1.htm which provides a guideline for transactions. There need to be appropriate penalties for disobeying honest trading practices. There have been attempts to standardise practices to ensure that there are no "loopholes" or inconsistencies in practice that can be used to exploit consumers. The privacy and disclosure obligations of organisations that have access to consumer databases seems to be interconnected with the access by consumers to personal information held in consumer databases because unless consumers have some rights of access to these personal records there can be no assurance that the organizations concerned have the details correct or that they are not using them for unauthorised purposes.
This is an edited version of the ACLU submission. The full submission is on the ACLU website (here).
ACLU SUBMISSION ON THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
The World Economic Forum (WEF), as an adjunct of the World Trade Organization,(formerly GATT) held meetings at the Crown Hotel, Crown Casino in Melbourne,in September,2000. The venue was heavily protected by police and barricades against invasion by hordes of protesters who surrounded the premises and have threatened to break through, according to the mass media. Odium has been cast on the demonstrators by Melbourne newspapers at their protest and the threat of violence. Yet the fact that the WEF meeting has to be held under armed guard is a sign of its great unpopularity around the world, an unpopularity which was experienced in Seattle, which led to police brutality against dissenters who opposed it.
Previous to this meeting, the Australian Parliament rushed through a highly authoritarian and totalitarian bill, titled "The Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Bill 2000," which has no sunset clause and makes no adequate distinction between peaceful protesters and those intending to do physical or bodily harm. It authorises Australian troops to fire on civilians. This is the background to the events at the WEF, where government strongarm tactics are to be used to stifle protest.
The tactics of the WTO are being opposed by people around the world because they represent an attempt to foist a centralized, authoritarian, global power on countries in a way that will ignore the needs of citizens and smash national sovereignty. It gives power to multinationals and richer countries at the expense of poorer ones. It involves no consultation at grassroots level, no matter how disastrous its policies may be for the public interest in countries concerned, and the WTO and similar agencies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, push globalism at the expense of the popular will.Why was the meeting during Sept. 11-13, 2000, held in Melbourne? The WEF's managing director, Claude Smadja, says: "we felt that bringing the summit to Australia was a way for the forum to play a modest role in the process of Australia's integration into the Asian region."
At no time have the Australian electors been consulted about whether they favour integration into the Asian region. In view of the fact that Australia has been flooded with Asian imports that have undercut Australian goods and driven them out of business, and that many local industries have been bought out by foreign and/or multinationals; and at a time when many farmers, who cannot compete with imported supplies, have been driven out of business, it is likely that they would oppose "integration" with Asia. It is more likely they would favour protectionism rather than "free trade" which is not the same as "fair trade". But they have not been asked their opinion and, if given, it is not heeded by the WTO, the Government or the "Loyal Opposition."This attempted WTO economic integration is a first step towards political integration, just as happened in Europe under the European Union, deemed the "United States of Europe" in which Brussels and not London is in control of British affairs.Australian administrations, both Liberal and Labor have favoured a sellout to these globalist interests, adopting a "bi-partisan" support which pays no heed to deep popular opposition to their policies.
Big Business and government are in bed together. If a Parliamentary committee has any genuine interest in reform, it could take heed of the way subservience to global interests overrides local concerns causing hardship to individuals and national groups, needing protection against cheap imports.They could take note of the way in which WTO carries out its decisions in an anti-democratic fashion, behind closed doors, and the way in which it has become a "power elite", a kind of "super- government." If the WTO is to be retained, instead of being totally discarded as it should be, limits should be put on its power to bulldoze through whatever rules and regulations maximise its profits in the interest of a few.Australia should be reminded of the fact that it can issue its own currency debt-free and that it could be issued as a credit rather than a debit. The first World War and Second World War were financed at low cost by the Commonwealth Bank. Having to "borrow" money from financiers at usurious interest places a tremendous burden on taxpayers and our posterity.
The committee should investigate the way the elector's wishes are being trashed. A letter to the Financial Review, July, 1997, said that in an AGB McNair survey 82% of the population were willing to reject cheap foreign imports to protect local jobs and industries, and 88% of Australians believed that reducing tariffs would cost jobs. At a time of widespread unemployment, matters of this kind should receive priority.In addition, the same survey says that 77% of company directors are opposed to unilateral tariff reductions, 62% think Australia had already lost from trade liberalisation and nearly half of Australia's business leaders oppose free trade. (cited from Australian Financial Review, June 26,1997)
This sellout to multinationals has the potential to ruin the world. The committee could heed the words of Dr Nandana Shiva, Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resources in India. Dr Shiva told an audience that multinationals had created environmental destruction. She mentioned the way multinationals had left poverty in their wake. She mentioned that at one stage India had imported 2 million tonnes of wheat, yet people still starved.This she called "bio-piracy".In terms of disregard of the human factor, she gave the example that a U.S. Multinational forced India to build an iron smelter on a fertile plain. The women in the area had formed a human chain to block the bulldozers.
Part of the WTO agenda is the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) which wanted to promote the Multilateral Investment Agreement (MIA) that would allow multinational unlimited right to buy and sell as they wished, and disregard local regulations at will. Accountability to the public or to individual governments would not be part of their policy.World debt is the big financial problem. The money changers must be thrown out of the temple if the world is to survive and avert global crisis. What will the Australian government and its agencies do, while there is still time? What steps will the committee take to avert the catastrophe?
THE NANNY STATE
We live in an era when the Big Brother State has innumerable rules and regulations to control our lives. There are so many different laws no one can keep track of them all.An article in Herald-Sun, 14/2/00, by Tim Jamieson, headed "The Nanny State" demonstrates a plethora of rules in each municipality, some of which are petty and even ridiculous. For example, Melbourne City Council can fine drivers who pull out of demolition or building sites with dirty wheels. There is no consistency or logic in many laws.The question for the civil libertarian is to what extent these laws are desirable and necessary, and how far they are needlessly restrictive. In many cases, these laws are unnecessary.
John Bennett, President of the Australian Civil Liberties Union, was quoted in the Herald-Sun, 14/2/00, as saying that: "in many ways we've become a nanny state, in which we have too many tiers of government and too many bureaucrats who feel happier being armed with some very unnecessary laws. It's a delicate balance to get a society which functions well but is not over-governed, particularly in an officious way." Mr Bennett blamed public apathy for not challenging officious laws.
There are many areas in which laws need to be amended or abolished. many laws may remain on the statute books owing to government inertia even if they involve injustices.
Another area in which privacy is a concern is the use of e-tags in Melbourne for use with CityLink. The personal details of people using CityLink may not be kept private. In an effort to track down those who use CityLink roads without either an e-tag account or a day pass, the tollway's owner, Transburban, will photograph cars using the tollway illegally, which will then be passed to police for their identification. This puts the police in the role of debt collectors for Transburban but, possibly more significantly, provides opportunities for trading in information, releasing details of cars to unauthorised persons.
One who has warned about the dangers of abuse of power by the police,Raymond Hoser, has argued that massive corruption exists within the Force, much of which, if it ever comes to light, emerges years later.
While many companies with databanks insist that they have adequate safeguards, nevertheless there is potential for hackers to invade these databanks and breach privacy. Even NASA, the US space agency, was breached by hackers from RMIT. It seems that whatever the safeguards, a determined hacker can penetrate them. The Herald Sun article said that "Big Brother is watching.Whether you are wearing dirty bathers, parking across peoples' driveways or keeping too many guinea pigs- watch out. Those caught with a water pistol in Melbourne's zoological gardens or driving with dirty wheels could incur the wrath of a council by-laws officer. And letting the kids have a sleep-over in a backyard tent could land parents with a $500 fine. These are some of the by-laws Victoria's metropolitan councils still have on the statute books. Laws passed by the State Government are not much better.
While some border on the ridiculous, others no doubt serve a real purpose. Even civil libertarians agree some laws do not go far enough.
They argue "weak" privacy laws do not go far enough to protect consumers from the data banks that conglomerates like the Packer empire want to assemble. And who could argue with the laws that banned wheel clamping, or police powers to remove a vehicle blocking your driveway, or the Security Devices Act, which empowers police to charge people snooping on neighbours with binoculars or telescopes?
But to what extent are the lives of Victorians over-regulated? The government has said it would consider a plan by the Lost Dogs' Home to force people to sit tests before buying a pet. Last year, a report revealed 70 per cent of 45 councils surveyed wanted the government to ban smoking in public places. Owners of dogs that bark incessantly attract $2000 fines. Passengers playing a radio or musical instrument on public transport stand to cop a $100 fine. Power skiers need a license and no-go zones are among new rules Ports Minister Candy Broad insists will weed out irresponsible thrill-seekers. Those living in Heritage areas must apply for a permit before painting their homes.
Yarra City Council does not hand out colour charts, saying the by-law made sure people do not adopt "inappropriate" colour schemes. People found carrying a water pistol, playing cricket or kicking the footy in Melbourne's zoological gardens can be fined $50-00.
Then there are laws covering when you can and cannot switch on air conditioners, swimming pool pumps and vacuum cleaners. Many local councils reviewed their by-laws ahead of the Kennett government's unpopular council amalgamations. Still, many antiquated, if not bizarre, by-laws have slipped through the net. Yarra Council reserves the right to fine homeowners up to $500 for erecting a tent in their backyard without first applying for a permit. Boroondara council cites health reasons for demanding a permit for keeping more than eight guinea pigs or mice. Melbourne City Council can fine drivers $500 for pulling out of demolition or building sites with dirty wheels. Stonnington Council has kept a by-law urging swimmers not to wear "unclean" or "unsuitable" bathing costumes in its pools - offenders can be fined $100. And homeowners caught with a shopping trolley outside their homes stand to lose $200.
Critics of the previous State Government highlight how quickly it did away with peoples' common law rights. "The potential for our rights to be eroded was seen in the Kennett government when there were hundreds of amendments to the state constitution,"said Victorian Local Government Association secretary Mike Hill. "They nearly all involved peoples' rights at common law." Notable examples included injured workers and residents whose homes were allegedly wrecked by Grand Prix compaction workers. Both groups lost their right to sue for damages. Clearly, many by-laws are not a knee-jerk reaction but are imposed to deal with issues of concern at the time. But Mr Hill says the position is that some are never removed. How long will the by-laws to stop toll-waiting motorists turning off arterial roads remain in force? Perhaps as long as those that penalise people who don't remove their empty garbage bins, or number their homes.
Cameras to catch welfare cheats.
With over 500,000 surveillance cameras in use in Australia there is a danger we are becoming a big brother society.In several radio interviews,the ACLU said it had no objection in principle to Centrelink employing private investigators to use video cameras to catch people working who have claimed to be unemployed or to have a disability preventing them working. It is unfair to taxpayers if people obtain benefits to which they are not entitled. The cost of the camera surveillance of suspected dole cheats is about $1 million, and almost 500 dole cheats have been discovered especially on the sunshine belt of northern NSW and southern Queensland.
While such surveillance can be justified, there is a danger of overusing surveillance cameras. There are more than half a million surveillance cameras in public places in Australia. There should be safeguards in relation to surveillance of suspected dole cheats. The matter should be referred to the Privacy Commissioner, and the Federal Ombudsman should report to Parliament each year on the number of people put under surveillance. Video footage of people cleared of cheating should be destroyed.
The private investigators taking the footage should be required to obtain a court order after satisfying the court the surveillance is justified. There is a danger that some people will be harassed as a result of false and malicious information given to Centrelink.
Contents of Your Rights
Australian Civil Liberties Union