ANNUAL REPORT DIGITAL RIGHTS WATCH
Our vision is for a digital world where all humanity can thrive, and where diversity and creativity flourishes. To ensure this, our digital world must be underpinned by equality, freedom and established human rights principles. Its evolution and future must be guided and driven by the interests of all people and the environments we live in. Digital Rights Watch exists to defend and promote this vision â€“ to ensure fairness, freedoms and fundamental rights for all people who engage in the digital world. Our mission is to ensure that Australians are equipped, empowered and enabled to uphold their digital rights. We believe that digital rights are human rights which see their expression online.
Digital Rights Watch acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land and community. We acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the true custodians of this land that was never ceded and pay our respects to their cultures, and to elders past, present and emerging. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Update from Chair Greetings from the end of an unprecedented year in many ways. The defence of human rights is always important, but in a year of immense public health challenges, it has gained a new significance. In times of crisis, rights are often treated as disposable. But these are the exact moments where it becomes critical to hold those in power to account. If we want technology to be part of our recovery from Covid-19 - and we believe it can be part of building back better - we need it to be rights-respecting. That will not happen without a fight. At Digital Rights Watch, it's been a period of significant change and progress. We've managed to build on our success last year and hire more staff members, which has allowed us to do more work than ever, and this change could not have come at a better time. We've raised our voice about the problems with the COVIDSafe app, we have filed submissions on privacy, data retention, the proposed media code and the UN Periodic Review. We've had many meetings on zoom and quite a few meetings to talk about the problems with the business model of platforms like zoom. In short, the pandemic has meant that our dependence on the internet has never been more apparent, and our role as advocates for freedom and fundamental rights online has never felt more urgent. We're really proud of what we've achieved this year, and we are grateful, as always, for the support from members. Supporters of our work allow us to speak loudly to those in power, from both industry and government, so thanks for taking the time to be one. We are looking forward to a brighter 2021, a year in which we have big plans to make the web a more joyful (and rights-respecting) place to be. Lizzie Oâ€™Shea Chair - Digital Rights Watch
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2020
When the government announced a contact tracing app called COVIDSafe, DRW immediately sprung into action to advocate for rights-focussed, decentralised design. We campaigned for privacy to be baked in, not patched on as an afterthought. We collaborated with other digital and human rights organisations to collate what we knew about the app, how it compared with other equivalent initiatives around the world, and the standards we argued should be applied. The Attorney-General and the Prime Minister eventually attempted to address privacy concerns with the legislation governing the app, which was a considerable step forward. But in our app explainer and our public advocacy, we reiterated how even a commitment like this canâ€™t be accepted uncritically. Contempt for our rights in the recent past by governments at every level led to this environment of mistrust, and a culture of substandard public tech. The app has ultimately become a dead letter, an outcome we predicted but still consider regrettable.
COVID POLICING In the midst of the Covid-19 health crisis, a significant list of human rights organisations called for improved police accountability to maintain public trust as health regulations are enforced. We joined together with these organisations to document incidents, and examples from the public concerning Covid-19 policing, for use in monitoring and reporting, as well as legal advocacy and accountability.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2020
CITIES FOR DIGITAL RIGHTS Australians should be able to live their lives without being constantly watched, monitored and tracked. We want to see technology being used to enhance and protect human rights.
In 2018, the Cities for Digital Rights initiative was launched by Barcelona, Amsterdam and New York City with the support of the United Nations Human Settlements Program, with an aim to protect, promote and monitor residents’ and visitors’ digital rights. We asked our members and supporters to write to their local councils about our growing concern about the rapid expansion of surveillance technology in public spaces, and call on them to join the Cities for Digital Rights.
Instead, too often ‘smart city’ data-centric projects focus on constant generation, collection and processing of data. But more data does not always mean more smart. Rather, it increases security risk, creates an imbalance of power between people and government, and erodes our right to privacy. It’s the wrong kind of smart.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2020
BAN MASS SURVEILLANCE FACIAL RECOGNITION Numerous investigations have shown that the technology is dangerously inaccurate and is frequently misused by the many agencies that access it. In the last year, some of the biggest tech companies in the world have recognised the danger of facial recognition technology. Theyâ€™ve joined a chorus of social justice and human rights groups calling on governments to ban the use of facial recognition technology that enables mass surveillance, and to establish regulations and safeguards to protect peopleâ€™s privacy and guard against misuse of the technology. We asked the Australian Federal and State Governments to do the same.
“Four years ago, a group of academics, technology experts and activists came together in the meeting rooms of ThoughtWorks Australia with a shared vision: to unite in their advocacy against the recently passed mandatory metadata retention laws. Much was discussed about the state of human rights in online spaces and the ramping up of attacks from conservative governments. That meeting led to the formation of Digital Rights Watch, and it’s been my privilege to serve as Chair of this organisation over that time.”
BYE TIM Tim Singleton Norton, our Founding Chair, stepped down after four years of leadership. We are so grateful for Tim’s commitment, expertise and enthusiasm for the work of DRW. We are sorry to see him go, but his legacy will be a strong and agile organisation that works in myriad ways to advance our mission.
HI LIZZIE Lizzie O’Shea, a founding board member, took over from Tim as the new chair of DRW.
“It’s an honour to take over as chair of Digital Rights Watch from Tim Singleton Norton. Our priorities for DRW continue to be to stand up for digital rights. Australia is the only developed country without a bill of rights, and it shows. Too often, our lawmakers do not treat the protection of digital rights a priority, and make laws that centralised power in online spaces in the surveillance state and the tech industry. We have a great dynamic board, some terrific staff members and a clever and powerful membership base. There is plenty we can achieve when we work together, and I’m looking forward to making sure that happens.”
Lucie Krahulcova, Programme and Partnerships Director Lucie came on board in August 2020. She is a professional activist and digital rights advocate. She specialises in surveillance, law enforcement powers in the digital era, export controls, encryption, data retention and telecoms regulation. Lucie previously worked in Ottawa and Brussels, and spent five years at the digital rights NGO Access Now, bringing an international dimension to our team.
Samantha Floreani, Campaigns Officer Sam joined us in May 2020. She works at the intersection of feminism, human rights and technology. As former Program Director for Code Like a Girl, Sam is dedicated to the ethics of technology in all its formsâ€”from gender equity in the tech industry to upholding privacy in an increasingly surveillance-obsessed world. Alongside her work with DRW, Sam is studying postgraduate data science.
Written by the DRW team Sydney Morning Herald, Respect for human rights must come at the centre of any technological drive to fight coronavirus, by Lizzie O’Shea (April) Overland, Coronavirus and the police state, by Lizzie O’Shea (April) Eureka Street, Navigating the COVIDSafe rhetoric, by Samantha Floreani (May) The Guardian, The Australian Government’s concern about TikTok is not just about data ethics - it’s about politics, by Samantha Floreani (July) The Guardian, Australia needs to face up to the dangers of facial recognition technology, by David Paris (Aug) Nikkei Asia, Big Tech and COVID-19 are fueling networked authoritarianism, by Lizzie O’Shea (Sept) Right Now, COVID-19 must not normalise digital surveillance, by David Paris (Oct) The Baffler, Regulators! Stand back. Under a Biden Administration, Big Tech is set for a field day, by Lizzie O’Shea (Nov) Jacobin, The Coles Warehouse Lockout is a front-line struggle in the battle over automation, by Lauren Kelly (Dec) Overland, The trouble with the media bargaining code, by Lizzie O’Shea (Dec)
TV and Radio 3CR, COVIDSafe App and digital rights, featuring Samantha Floreani (May) 7News, Police enforce rules with drones, featuring Lizzie O’Shea (Aug) 3AW, Surveillance concerns as police deploy drones to catch COVID-19 rule breakers, featuring Lizzie O’Shea (Aug) SBS, How young people are using TikTok to influence US politics, featuring Samantha Floreani (Oct) 2SER Think: Digital Futures, Creeping Capability, featuring Samantha Floreani (Oct) ABC Radio National, QR codes and your privacy, featuring Lucie Krahulcova (Nov) RRR, Intelligence and international data flows (Oct), Mac OS and privacy (Nov), featuring Lucie Krahulcova 2SER Think: Digital Futures, A constant drone, featuring Lucie Krahulcova (Dec)
Featured in ZDNet, Civil liberty groups dismiss guarantee on US not accessing COVIDSafe data, featuring Lucie Krahulcova (May) The New Daily, Should Australia press pause on facial recognition technology?, featuring Tom Sulston (Jul) Information Age, Independent judge should oversee encryption orders, featuring Lucie Krahulcova (Jul) ZDNet, Separating employee work time from personal time is the next privacy quagmire, featuring David Paris (Aug) The New Daily, Victoria’s most shocking coronavirus restriction fines, featuring Lizzie O’Shea (Oct) The New Daily, ‘Extremely concerning:’ Dutton’s surveillance bill risks undermining Australian’s Privacy, featuring Lucie Krahulcova (Dec) InnovationAus, AFP’s expansion of authoritarian powers, featuring Lucie Krahulcova (Dec)
While this year challenged traditional event making, we at DRW took to the Internet to deliver two of our own events, a fortnightly Tech Talk, and a series of talks and debates in partnership with our partner organizations.
Our year in review January Launched a people-powered movement to push for a moratorium on the use of face recognition technologies. February Expressed our outrage about revelations that Australian law enforcement agencies had been potentially abusing mandatory metadata retention laws. With Thoughtworks, cohosted a Valentines Day Crypto Bar to connect friendly nerds with loveable people to help them secure their stuff• With Access Now and the Human Rights Law Centre, provided evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security review of the mandatory metadata retention scheme. Provided a submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications has been asked to run a public consultation over a new Online Safety Act.
Published a timeline of digital rights legislation in Australia and warned how continued bipartisan passage of national security legislation through federal parliament has caused a generation-long weakening of Australians’ fundamental human rights. Raised concerns about revelations that the Clearview AI data breach that Australian law enforcement agencies were using the company’s facial recognition tools for identification purposes without any oversight or privacy protections. March Published a timeline of digital rights legislation in Australia and spoke up about how continued bipartisan passage of national security legislation through federal parliament has caused a generationlong weakening of Australians’ fundamental human rights. Called on the government to not expand their use of dangerous untested technology during the coronavirus pandemic.
Like many others, completely reorganised our working practices and strategic priorities in response to the coronavirus pandemic. April Joined a global coalition of over 100 human rights and civil liberties organisations to tell world governments not to use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to usher in digital surveillance. Published an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald about how respect for human rights must come at the centre of any technological drive to fight coronavirus. Collated an extensive database of information and explainer about the CovidSafe contact tracing app. Raised numerous, significant concerns about the CovidSafe contact tracing app, together with a coalition of human rights and technology partners. Published an opinion piece in Overland about coronavirus and the police state.
May Raised concerns about the ASIO Amendment Bill, which sought to increase powers and decrease oversight of ASIO. Published an op-ed on Eureka Street about the CovidSafe app, including its technical flaws, concerns around data privacy, security and the normalisation of surveillance. June Hosted an event about applying the campsite rule— when you visit a campsite, we all know the right thing to do is to leave it better than we found it—to digital rights in a crisis. Launched our campaign to ban mass surveillance facial recognition. July Published an op-ed in the Guardian about TikTok and data ethics. Hosted an event "Facing up to Facial Recognition" with ABC Journalist Ariel Bogle, Law and Technology Scholar Jake Goldenfein, and Technologist and Activist Kathryn Gledhill-Tucker.
August Published an article in the Guardian about how Australia needs to face up to the dangers of facial recognition technology. Provided as submissions about the ASIO Amendment Bill. Blogged about police drones and coronavirus surveillance. With Access Now, provided a submission to the UN Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review. Launched our "Monthly Roundup" emails for members and supporters. September Made a submission about the proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code. Published a blog explaining our concerns about the proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code. Published an opinion piece for Nikkei Asian Review about growing border industrial complex: Big...
...Tech and COVID-19 are fueling networked authoritarianism. Reviewed ‘The Social Dilemma’ (Netflix documentary). Launched our Digital Rights Cities campaign. Spoke at PyCon about techno-solutionism and human rights. October Participated in NetThing, a conference about internet governance in Australia, including presenting a keynote and hosting an event about censorship and expression online. Published a paper and article reflecting on the human rights implications of the CovidSafe app. Blogged about the Five Eyes and their ongoing campaign to undermine encryption Responsible Technology Published a guide to our Digital Rights Cities campaign laying down concrete objectives and steps cities can take to action the objectives.
... our year continued November Made a submission to the Office of the National Data Commissioner regarding the proposed Data Availability and Transparency Bill. Published a breakdown of the review of the mandatory metadata retention scheme by the Joint Parliamentary Commission on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). Filed a submission to the Attorney-General in response to the Privacy Act Review Issue Paper. Published a breakdown analysis of QR codes, and their impacts on privacy and security. Co-hosted a Tech Talk with Human Rights Commisioner Edward Santow, "A year in review" where we took a look at key challenges. Created and shared an infographic on our socials on how and why digital identity (eID) programs are a digital rights issue. Announced our flagship State of Digital Rights Watch report, to be launched early in 2021.
December Published our annual guide to tech Christmas shopping, highlighting the need for stronger protections especially regarding toys and technology marketed to children. Responded to the publication of the Identify and Disrupt Bill, providing an infographic break-down of the billâ€™s key issues for our supporters. Provided critical commentary to the press and across radio regarding the governmentâ€™s proposed surveillance reform, including the Identify and Disrupt Bill as well as the Richardson Report. Created a digital rights advent calendar across our social media accounts containing 24 days of digital rights activities and resources (now available on our website). Secured an 18 month project grant from the Internet Society Foundation which will allow us to explore the economies of online spaces.
WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP
We pride ourselves on working in strong alliances of collaboration, both in Australia and across the world.
Digital Rights Watch is a member of: Alliance for a Safe and Secure Internet Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance Australian Progress Labs Biometric Surveillance Working Group Campaign to Stop Killer Robots CIVICUS World Alliance Fair Copyright Campaign Save Australian Tech Campaign Save Dot Org Campaign WhyID Campaign #KeepItOn campaign
Access Now Amnesty International Australia Article 19 The Australia Institute Australian Lawyers for Human Rights Australian Privacy Foundation Australian Progress Blueprint for Free Speech Castan Centre for Human Rights Law The Centre for Responsible Technology CHOICE Deakin University Criminology Digital Data & Society Consortium EDRi Electronic Frontiers Australia Electronic Frontiers Foundation Fight for the Future Future Wise GetUp! Hack for Privacy Human Rights Law Centre The Juice Media Liberty Victoria National Justice Project NSW Council for Civil Liberties Open Media Privacy International Purpose Queensland Council for Civil Liberties Queensland University of Technology Thoughtworks
Digital Rights Watch works with a range of organisational partners in the pursuit of strong digital rights.
PUBLIC AND PHILANTHROPIC SUPPORT We have put significant effort into the financial viability of Digital Rights Watch through the yearâ€”increasing our public donations and securing several philanthropic grants for the year and into 2021! At this stage, we are able to retain and eventually hire more staff, which is very exciting for usâ€”and hopefully for all of you. We will continue to build the stability of the organisation to operate independently. Special thanks to the Mannifera and Australian Communities Foundations for their continued support.
We've invested time in diversifying our reach to new communities:
Direct contributions from our supporters allow us to work freely, responding to the most critical issues:
PRIORITIES FOR 2021 We're pretty excited about 2021 here at the DRW camp. The last year saw us move our lives and communities online, really testing the limits of our technologies. In many ways, technology was a critical lifeline. On the flip side, we also saw the dramatic ways technology has yet to improve to be truly open, free and secure for all.
In December, we were awarded an 18 month grant by the Internet Society Foundation to look at the "Internet Economy" and explore the relationship between local communities, independent content creators, writers, artists... and the digital platforms they use and rely on to share their work and make a living. We think this conversation is well overdue, and we're excited to be bringing it to Australia with a series of large discussion townhall meetings in 2021.
This year, will continue fighting government overreach and the expansion of surveillance into our everyday lives. We will bring you breakdowns of important legislation and, of course, keep an eye on international developments.
Make sure you're subscribed tp updates! It's going to be a big year.
THANKS GOES TO
OUR BOARD Lizzie O’Shea (Chair & Secretary) Tom Sulston (Deputy Chair) Lilly Ryan (Treasurer) Vanessa Toholka Lauren Kelly Penny Kyburz Mark Andrejevic
David Paris Kirsty Albion Justin Clacherty Chris Cooper Hugh de Kretser Robin Doherty Suelette Dreyfus Alice Drury Amy Gray Emily Howie Lyndsey Jackson Peter Lewis Scott Ludlam Angus Murray Giordano Nanni Leanne O’Donnell Felicity Ruby Edward Santow John Stanton Asher Wolf Kathryn Gledhill-Tucker Yassmin Abdel-Magied Heron Loban Ariel Bogle Jake Goldenfein Vanessa Teague Justin Warren
IMAGE CREDIT: RUNE FISKER 2017 22
CONTACT You can reach out to us for more information
DIGITAL RIGHTS WATCH