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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


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