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Thursday, October 6, 2016

The News for Yous

Co-written by: Ardian Putra, Dustin Kochen, Harley Ennis, and Brendan Williams.

Security - Dictionary by American Advisors Group (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Throughout the course of the last unit we have looked at digital surveillance in varied forms, from military drones, to fitness trackers, to our obsession with whatever-it-is-celebrities-are-getting-up-to-at-any-given-time. This multiplicity of forms, which is seemingly set to expand and evolve in ways that we are not yet aware of, is food for thought in its own right, placing us in the eye of a surveillance storm populated by competing technologies and interests (not least of which is our own). One theme however, seems to loom large over this maelstrom, seeking to unite the different threads and datasets and that is of course, government surveillance.

The sheer volume and breadth of personal data collected through various corporate and private endeavors, is a treasure trove that has proven irresistible to governments and surveillance agencies who ‘have always used their authority to piggyback on corporate surveillance’ (Schneier, B 3013). When exposed to public scrutiny, these activities are often framed as a necessary safeguard, one where we trade our privacy in exchange for safety.

The commonly used phrase ‘if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about’ seems to be the foundation for many of the justifications of bulk surveillance, however it presumes that for those being watched life will proceed as normal. And indeed it does seem to ‘proceed as normal’. Since the Snowden revelations peoples’ online behavior has changed little (PREIBUSCH, S 2015), and many of the products we purchase are increasingly invasive. It would be fair to argue that many, if not most of us are at the very least unsettled by the idea of constant surveillance, yet paradoxically we are also instrumental in its execution.

Surveillance Camera Sign by Mike Mozart (CC BY 2.0)
In considering what could be an entirely plausible situation, ‘The News for Yous’ is questioning this idea of ‘life proceeding as normal’. Our current government has done such an appalling job trying to justify the likes of meta data retention, or identified census data (not to mention the dangerous precedents that our allies and partners have set) that we would be crazy not to be suspicious. By looking at how the privacy we trade for security is being used, we need to consider these trade-offs, not simply from a desire for life as usual, but with consideration for the society we wish to build.

Such a society that we may be building it one more inclined towards George Orwell’s 1984. Although a work of fiction and a dystopian exaggeration of surveillance society, in recent years the parallels between the novel and our current reality have become increasingly more noticeable. Besides the aforementioned revelations by Snowden, attention should be addressed to the hacking capabilities of the FBI, but also the phone-hacking of theIndonesian Government on the part of the Australian Government. Even Snowden himself stated that ‘George Orwell warned us of the danger of this information…that the conversation today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it (UPI, 2013).’

That observation has been intentionally translated into our work, outlining not only the increasingly unethical actions of the government for the sake of ‘national security’ but also the conversation of the public – and the subsequent actions taken in outcry of these questionable acts of surveillance. Although other options were taken under consideration in order to discuss surveillance and privacy, the final decision rested with the scenario in which the government themselves was put under scrutiny in switching of roles. This is once again both a nod to the actions of Snowden as well as the thought-provoking considerations that George Orwell’s 1984 reminds us of.
As much as a tradeoff is required and not have a standardized response for gross invasions of privacy for Australian Citizens, there needs to be a fair and equitable tradeoff for the citizens for privacy protection, and the government to patrol potentially dangerous data manipulation. A recent example of this can be through the hacking of the Australian Census website. This hacking caused the website to crash and most importantly potentially compromised sensitive information that the government was required to protect. Furthermore, the government has come under attack for not protecting private and personal information, and in some cases, taking advantage of it and using it to their own benefit, and not protecting their own software and data.

Bennett (2015) discusses that in Australia, this tradeoff for privacy vs security is at the very least ‘patchy’, as per the High court case of Lenah Game Meats Pty Ltd v Australian Broadcasting Corp keeping open the recognition and possibility of more general laws and rights to privacy, however did not confirm it. This can be seen in many similar cases throughout various national and state cases (Giller v Procopets, Kalaba v Commonwealth of Australia etc.), however although some of these cases yield some level of surveillance and security risks, none of these comprehensively have denied or given rise to increases in individual violation and rights of Australian citizens.

Data breaches can and have occurred through Australia through data hacking and breaches of data. Privacy breaches occur when data affects an individual’s privacy without their consent, whether or not it was intentional. Whilst other countries have mandatory legislation in place to notify when this has occurred, Australia is slow do adopt this, and in turn makes recommendations of voluntary awareness. This has been given to the Australian Law Reform Commission to rectify, however Australia is yet to impose any sort of safety blanket to secure private data from being released (Williams, P H & Hossack, E 2013).

Stop Watching Us by Elvert Barnes (CC BY-SA 2.0)
There is a dire need for a statutory privacy tort to be enacted throughout the Commonwealth, and especially within Australia, with these acts are required to be broken down into two separate sections: ‘intrusion upon seclusion’ and ‘misuse of private information’. These acts would allow for the safety and security of all Australian citizens. Similar acts have been enforced or enacted in England, Canada and New Zealand, and would allow for the ‘onus’ to remain on the plaintiff to satisfy the court that the public interest in privacy prevails over government, without express permission (Bennett, T 2015).

In conclusion, there will always be debates surrounding the competition between the two. As much as the public interest is in protecting themselves and their ‘mirrored selves’ within the surveilled platforms, the government – on the other hand – has their own reasoning to conduct surveillance acts under the label of security measurement. Apart from the real-world surveillance (CCTV, etc.), the expanding realm of cyberspace becomes an unregulated world if not watched carefully. Though its implementation is indeed becoming controversial in an age where the ideology of freedom and liberty becomes the main driver of the society. As what has been outlined in the previous paragraphs, there should be a law in managing the relationship between privacy and any kind of surveillance acts. Even though the ever-developing surveillance technology makes it hard for the lawmaker to create a clear boundaries and limitation within the process of conducting surveillance, Australia and other sovereign states need to prioritize its citizens in terms of protecting their rights under law. All in all, it may be the case of ‘the more suspicious you are towards someone, the more recalcitrant that person becomes’.


Bennett, TC 2014 ‘Privacy, Free Speech and Ruthlessness: The Australian Law Reform Commissions Report Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era’, Journal of Media Law, 6,2, pp. 193-205

PREIBUSCH, S 2015, 'Privacy Behaviors After Snowden', Communications of the ACM, vol. 58, no. 5, pp. 48-55.

Schneier, B 3013, The Trajectories of Government and Corporate Surveillance, Schneier on Security, retrieved 31 august 2016, https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/10/the_trajectorie.html

UPI 2013,'Snowden: Orwell's '1984' 'nothing' compared to NSA spying', UPI Top News, retrived 3 October 2016, http://www.upi.com/Snowden-Orwells-1984-nothing-compared-to-NSA-spying/26571387949400/

Williams, P & Hossack, E 2013, ‘It will never happen to us: the likelihood and impact of privacy breaches on health data in Australia’, Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, 188, pp. 155-161

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Through The Looking Glass

Created using drone icon’ by Blaise Sewell (CC BY 3.0 US)
The only time I’ve actually noticed a drone in use was about a year ago (goodness knows how many times they’ve noticed me?!). It looked a bit like this...

DJI Quadcoptor Phantom Vision Plus by Vicki Burton (CC BY-SA 2.0)  

I was out with my family, visiting friends in the country and we were at a winery having lunch. Now, what began as a point of curiosity (oooh look! A drone), soon became a tad unsettling for a few reasons (that I could discern);

To start with I’m not entirely comfortable with being filmed or photographed by unknown persons/agencies at the best of times. The fact that I was outside looking for a secluded tree that my three-year old could wee on (with the staff’s permission), perhaps made me a bit more sensitive, as this is something I definitely don’t want filmed. The clincher though, is how apparent the power imbalance is, in that we were not only unable to escape the drone’s sight-line but also that the operator was nowhere to be seen. This has a similar effect to a stranger staring you down for no reason, but with the added insult that you can’t avoid or address the person in question, or even guess at their motives. It is an invasion of privacy to which the victim has no recourse.

Under such conditions it is near impossible to relax, or 'act normally', as even the awareness that you are being watched (and therefore judged) is enough to make you moderate your behaviour (in my case so as not to draw attention). Glenn Greenwald makes this point wonderfully in his 2014 Ted Talk.

Needless to say, I encouraged my son to hold on until an indoor toilet was available.

What I had experienced (to a very minor degree) was that the ‘visibility of surveilled subjects and the indirect visibility/unverifiability of supervisors create a power effect that coerces the surveilled individuals to alter their behaviour…’ (Završnik, A 2016 p.173). In this particular case I’m sure nothing will come of it. It was probably someone just playing with their new toy. However, with drones set to become more common in urban environments, the ethical as well as security implications need to be considered.

Surveillance is by no means the only use for drones, with our flying-friends being employed for: ‘search and rescue, news reporting, crop spraying, air quality monitoring, after-the-fact crime scene investigation, surveying, disaster response, wildlife tracking, research into the dynamics of violent storms, spotting wildfires, filmmaking, and traffic monitoring’ (Villasenor, J 2014 p.236) to name a few. Their utility is obvious and much has been made of this point, however ‘the rapid development of this technology suggests the need to shift from what these airborne devices can do to how they should be used’ (West, JP, & Bowman, JS 2016 p.649). This is especially pertinent when we see them being utilised by the likes of law enforcement agencies, such as in NSW recently.

Drone (CC0 1.0
The lack of formal legislation surrounding the usage of drones is point for concern enough, but also the lack of guidelines dealing with the limits of institutional surveillance is worrying. West and Bowman ask ‘are the right things being surveilled for the right reasons—and how is that known?’ (West, JP, & Bowman, JS 2016 p.653). This is a question of transparency, which is fundamental to this issue however I would also add that there is a need for clarity on how data from this type of surveillance is to interpreted. It is easy to become focussed on the technicalities of drones, whilst at the same time forgetting that they are a tool, and like any tool they can be poorly used. Like any surveillance system, it is ultimately our interpretation and usage of the data that determines its morality.


Završnik, A 2016, Drones and unmanned aerial systems : legal and social implications for security and surveillance, Cham : Springer, retrieved 26 August 2016, DEAKIN UNIV LIBRARY's Catalog, EBSCOhost.

Villasenor, J 2014, '“Drones” and the Future of Domestic Aviation', Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 102, no. 3, pp. 235-238.

West, JP, & Bowman, JS 2016, 'The Domestic Use of Drones: An Ethical Analysis of Surveillance Issues', Public Administration Review, vol. 76, no. 4, pp. 649-659.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Opting In or Opting Out

(CC0 1.0)
In the 2001 census, the government first offered Australians a choice as to whether they would like their name-identified information kept. This year that opt-in system will be a compulsory system. Your name will be kept whether you like it or not' (Berg, C 2016). 

On the 9th of August I, like millions of other Australians sat down to complete the Census of Population and Housing. In previous years the census had been an understandable curiosity, an excuse to sit down with a glass of wine and some pizza, and contribute some useful data. This time however, the process was undertaken with a somewhat heavy heart. The government’s decision to make this year’s census individually identifiable, with the compulsory inclusion of one’s name, has changed it from a snapshot of Australia, showing how our nation has changed over time, allowing us to plan for the future’ (Biddle, N Montaigne, M 2016), to something more in line with the controversial 1985 ‘Australia Card.’ The unique code that identifies each census effectively becomes the Australia Card’s ‘Universal Identification Number’ (UIN), which ‘will be the common ‘key’ to the databases of the agencies allowed to participate in the scheme, and will enable ‘matching’ of databases where authorised’ (Greenleaf, G, & Nolan, J 1986 p.410).

Then this happened…

Now I would hope that the security concerns of this type of identified, and rich data gathering would be apparent to all, but the aspect that stuck with me is that there is no option to opt-out. Much has been made of this situation with many seeing it as no different to the kinds, and amount of information that we routinely divulge to Facebook and the like. The obvious retort to this argument is that participation in social media is voluntary, the census however, is not, with the threat of ever increasing penalties for non-compliance. Case closed? I’m not so sure.

My uncertainty lies in the relationship we have with the respective platforms and/or institutions that gather our data. With the ABS I can sit atop my righteous indignation, knowing that I am being strong-armed into submission, but with say Microsoft, I opted-in with no coercion on their part (except for maybe advertising). I am in control.
At least I was, until I received an email from them regarding changes to their privacy policy, and what got me was the final paragraph…

They may as well have written ‘suck it up, or get out!’. Just like the census, I am left with no recourse except for compliance or punishment of sorts, where the penalty in this case is exclusion from a platform I have been using for over a decade and am tied to by the bonds of familiarity and habit (not to mention the fact that I pay for their services).

It would be easy to extend this situation to nearly any popular data gathering entity (Google, Facebook, twitter, etc.). We all opt-in to these services considering to some degree the powers they wield, and weigh that up against the perceived benefits we get from the relationship yet, ‘what is presented as a bargain actually lacks mutuality, disclosure or roughly equal bargaining power. In such cases, the bargaining frame will highlight the absence of the possibility of a bargain’ (Pallitto, RM 2013 p.5).

The rules governing how our data is handled lie on shifting sands, and there is little we can apparently do about it. We can opt-in, and ignore or tolerate the surveillance, or we can opt out and become pariahs in an inescapably technological world. It would seem that surveillance, in the form of data gathering, is not just becoming the norm but is also becoming compulsory.

Unsuprisingly, they still want me fill out the census...


Greenleaf, G, & Nolan, J 1986, 'THE DECEPTIVE HISTORY OF THE "AUSTRALIA CARD', Australian Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 4, pp. 407-425.

Pallitto, RM 2013, 'Bargaining with The Machine: A Framework for Describing Encounters with Surveillance Technologies', Surveillance & Society, vol. 11, no. 1/2, pp. 4-17.

Berg, C 2016, If you're worried about privacy, you should worry about the 2016 census, ABC, retrieved July 28 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-15/berg-census-privacy-threat/7244744

Biddle, N Montaigne, M 2016, Explainer: what is the census, and why does it matter?, The Conversation, retrieved August 8 2016, http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-the-census-and-why-does-it-matter-62493

Thursday, August 18, 2016

If You Can't Beat 'em...

I had an incident the other day that got me thinking. Whilst working behind the information desk at my place of employment (think family friendly museum/gallery type thing), two customers approached the to ask for a map. This was nothing exceptional, and indeed entirely expected considering the context we were in, with the strange exception of the harness one of the couple was wearing.  It had all the appearance of a comically small backpack, complete with shoulder straps and the like however, it also appeared to be on backwards. On closer inspection it became obvious that what they had on was in fact a chest mount for an action camera, not dissimilar to this:

JVC Adixxion MT-CH001 by JVCAmerica (CC BY 4.0)
Perhaps they had ridden here and it served as the cycling equivalent of a dash-cam, or maybe this was just how they like to take photos, or it could have been a new toy being taken out for a test run. I mentally ran through multiple scenarios (all of which I was fine with, by the way), until I noticed the red blinking LED on the front. They were filming me, and this made me uncomfortable.

Up until that point, it had been to me an oddity. I’d never seen one being worn in an urban public space and was idly curious as to why one would do so, but now that I realised I was being recorded I was immediately suspicious of their motives, and to a degree offended that they felt this was appropriate. I did my job, and they went happily on their way, maps in hand and camera recording whatever and whoever it pointed at (I saw them an hour or two later and the little red light was still cheerily blinking). To add a dash of irony to the situation, my workplace sports a comprehensive array of surveillance cameras, not to mention security guards and staff (like myself) to keep an eye on things… all of which I am completely comfortable with.

The concept of ‘sousveillance’ has been around for some time now and is effectively ‘a form of reflectionism… a philosophy and procedures of using technology to mirror and confront bureaucratic organisations’ (Mann, S, et al, 2003 p.333), where in this particular case* an individual sports their own surveillance camera to emulate and challenge any institution doing the same. The terminology here, seemingly pitting the individual against, larger bureaucratic entities brings to mind the noble image of a restorative action, where a dis-empowered society can reclaim some semblance of control and at times, justice. Even the word itself contains these implications where ‘sousveillance has been built to designate the act of watching (veiller) from below (sous). In the case of sousveillance, the watchers are socially below those who are watched, while in the case of surveillance it is the opposite, they are above’ (Ganascia, J 2010 p.493).

One of the most iconic examples of this was the 1991 filming of four LAPD officers beating an unarmed Rodney King (with other officers present), showing what was undoubtedly an excessive use of force. Despite the video, the four officers were acquitted, however the presence of the footage in the public domain opened wider discussions regarding police brutality, and training methods (Mann, S, Nolan, J, & Wellman, B 2003). It is arguable that had this video not been taken and distributed, then the event could have been covered up, and no subsequent light shed on poor cultural and training practices of the LAPD. 

Since then, with increasing public access to affordable and practical surveillance devices (i.e. mobile phones), sousveillance has become a regular practice, and few of us think twice about individuals filming and documenting events that they take part in, be it a festival, or observing how transport officials deal with a passenger with no valid ticket. This ubiquity of observation would, ‘according to Steve Mann and to others… lead to a more balanced world state of justice, since everybody would act as if he were observed by others’ (Ganascia, J 2010 p.493).

I do not share Mann’s optimism on this subject however. This ‘balanced world state’ seems to rely too much on the objectivity of the footage and what it reveals, whilst overlooking the lack of objectivity inherent in the people reviewing it. This is evident in the Rodney King case where, when the officers were brought to trial their defence ‘never played the video straight through; instead they stopped and started it second by second. With the images taken out of context and isolated from the timeline, the moments shown seemed more defensible’ (Bock, MA, 2016). What was objective proof, had become subjective narrative.
we're on the same page... right?
Young man and woman taking pictures of each other by ralphbijker (CC BY 2.0)
There is also the issue of people moderating their behaviour in the knowledge of being observed. As Walter Kirn put it, ‘you have two options when you’re under surveillance (and only two); one is hide. The other is perform’ (Is My Phone Eavesdropping on Me? 2015), and in my case dealing with the (potentially misidentified) sousveiller, I chose the latter. It was a similar feeling to when one is driving and spots a police car; you know that you’ve done nothing wrong, yet you still slow down (well below the speed limit) and run through that mental checklist of possible misdemeanours, all the while trying to convey an aura of model-citizenship. With that in mind, does the footage of my ‘performance’ accurately represent me? A review of the footage may yield an entire day of interactions with people who appear suspicious or defensive, when in fact, they may simply feel uneasy with having somebody film them point-blank with no explanation.

There is a danger in taking the assumption that ‘data is meaningful’, at face value.Actions cannot be judged out of context, nor can they be assessed without knowledge of the reasons behind them, and the rights and duties of those involved’ (Enfield, N 2015). So to my would-be sousveiller. I applaud your right to take a stand, and encourage you to so. However, please be careful, as the power imbalance that you seek to redress is potentially embodied in your own actions.

*I am well aware that there could be numerous plausible explanations for her camera-toting antics, but it got me thinking about sousveillance and so, for the sake of this discussion, I'll assume this was the case.


Mann, S, Nolan, J, & Wellman, B 2003, 'Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments', Surveillance & Society, 1, 3, pp. 331-355

Ganascia, J 2010, 'The generalized sousveillance society', Social Science Information, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 489-507

Bock, MA, 2016, How Video Can Help Police – and the Public, The Conversation, retrieved 1 August 2016, http://theconversation.com/how-video-can-help-police-and-the-public-61336

Is My Phone Eavesdropping on Me? 2015, podcast, Note to Self, 4 November, retrieved 20 July 2016, http://www.wnyc.org/story/walter-kirn-paranoid-crazy

Enfield, N 2015, Accountability and the Viral Video: there are still no guarantees, The Conversation, retrieved 28 July 2016, http://theconversation.com/accountability-and-the-viral-video-there-are-still-no-guarantees-49677

Thursday, July 21, 2016

50,000,000 Surveillance Fans Can't be Wrong

'When acceptance levels go up, privacy concerns go down' Scott Silverstone, Verichip CEO.
(Translation: If we can convince enough people to use it, the rest will stop asking questions.)

Big Brother asked; Are there risks involved in becoming too paranoid or polemical about surveillance?

There are risks associated with becoming 'too much' of anything, but in the context of modern surveillance I'm inclined to believe that the issue is that excess paranoia can only serve to mask other concerns that probably should be addressed. By concentrating on the one guy who proposes a cyanide filled RFID chip, or how a strong electromagnetic field can burn you (you don't need to be microchipped to know this. Climb a mobile phone tower and sit in front of the microwave repeater for a real-life, non-conspiratorial demonstration of said effect), ignores more plausible concerns. 
People should be concerned, or at the very least interested in the data being gathered about them, how it is used, and by whom. Though digital convergence (ie. Your phone that has all of your details etc.), the richness of data that can be gathered and cross referenced to form a picture of our behaviour, habits, preferences, proclivities etc. is staggering, and as far as I can tell, quite unprecedented in human history. And whilst companies will provide services in exchange for this data (gmail anyone?), with benign marketing and assurances of security, we can rest assured that there are those who don't have our best interests at heart. The Snowden leaks are probably the single greatest demonstration of this, with the 'villain' being the US government and its agencies (and by complicity, our own government, amongst others). That a data gathering apparatus can be so compelling as to have the Governments of much of western society lie* to their own citizens, and break their own laws* to hide and foster it, on its own should raise a few eyebrows. 
It is this 'apparatus' and the will to construct it, that I feel is the key issue. Even if our governments and corporations were completely trustworthy in their handling of this data, what happens when Trump, or Pauline Hanson gets elected? The heads of security agencies and corporations don't change with political elections, nor do their resources. 
I know this is way more mundane than any 'new world order', but if not more plausible, it is certainly more demonstrable. If we place too much focus on the fringes of the surveillance debate, we run the risk of ignoring what is actually happening right under our noses.

Aaaand rant done! I'll try to work on my utopian side for next time.

*these are entirely reasonable accusations and not at all controversial.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Back to school

I'm turning the lights back on in this dingy, neglected corner of the internet as part of my studies. Whilst it feels like a bit of a cyber-non-sequitur, I figure I may as well use the old site I've got, rather than create another... digital recycling I guess.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Who Moved all the Furniture?

It's about time I blew the dust off this thing and started posting again, but it's been so long that I'm not sure where to start.

In the time since my last post I have worked on large scale projections, used new software, taught a bit, drawn a lot, acquired a Cintiq, watched animation, animated stuff, built a studio/shed, drawn some more, and amongst all this, become a father (twice!).

I'm sure there's a post or two in all that, but, I might just leave it at that and post some pics to get the ball rolling again. These are some (very) rough concepts for a short


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