Digital Rights Watch Annual Report 2021

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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 – 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 and present. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.



Update from Chair It’s fair to say that 2021 looked a lot more like 2020 than any of us ever really hoped. The pandemic has carried on, putting many lives and livelihoods at risk, and our dependence on digital spaces as critical infrastructure is now greater than ever. For us at Digital Rights Watch, we’ve been busy. This year DRW made twelve submissions, appeared at five parliamentary hearings, and participated in countless roundtables, consultations and discussions—all to protect our human rights. Digital rights issues often seem to crop up in advance of elections, and in our experience this year has been no exception. So, some themes are not new this year: governments have put their interests ahead of our right to digital security and companies continue to prioritise their business model over our democracy and well being. But every year I feel better about the state of our digital rights, because every year, I see our movement growing in number. It's clear that discussions about digital rights are more diverse than ever, and we've been proud to facilitate some of those through our own events and projects. We are always grateful for the support of our members and funders - whether that's supporting our campaigns, sharing our content, giving us feedback or becoming a regular donor. The challenges facing human rights in online spaces are plentiful, but our strength as a movement and community is continuing to grow, providing a source of inspiration and hope for many.

Lizzie O’Shea | Chair - Digital Rights Watch




DRW has hit a new record for parliamentary submissions this year. It started with the introduction of the News Media Bargaining Code, and the Facebook news ban —when it became clear that ceding control of online spaces to mega corporations has very serious consequences. There were also a suite of new surveillance powers, indeed some of the most aggressive to date, with the Identify and Disrupt Act facilitating mass warrantless surveillance and state sponsored hacking. The overly broad Online Safety Act was the source of an extensive submission from us, and associated work on other aspects of this regime including the proposed age verification regime. It was a cause for concern that safety may be being used as cover for new and insidious forms of censorship. We also worked on a long-overdue review of the Privacy Act, which was a recommendation of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in their digital platforms inquiry. More recently, we have seen a push to regulate social media with the Online Privacy Bill, and the poorly labeled “anti-tolling bill” which seeks to dispense with anonymity. All this policy work was aimed at highlighting significant problems with proposals and the immense potential of regulation to make the internet a more rights-respecting place.



CIVIL SOCIETY COLLABORATIONS 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.

OUR FLAGSHIP "STATE OF DIGITAL RIGHTS" REPORT We are continuing to publish an annual retrospective on the state of digital rights in Australia, from a variety of thinkers across disciplines. Digital Rights Watch works with a number of Australia’s leading activists, writers and critical thinkers to reflect on digital rights, and make recommendations to pave a way forward. The goal is to support, enhance and promote the conversations we need to be having about digital rights in Australia, and to encourage action through clear policy recommendations. We publish this report early in the year, and you can find the 2020 report on our website.



DRW launched our project examining the power imbalance between digital platforms and creators. In part inspired by the debate surrounding the News Media Bargaining Code, we seek to investigate what a genuine ability to bargain with platforms may look like between creators, community leaders, and independent artists. The project seeks to explore whether digital platforms had done enough to support local needs as they continue to grow and expand. The pandemic has shown us that digital platforms which step up for creators are rewarded—the crowd-funding platform Patreon has multiplied their membership thousand-fold and hit a $1 billion valuation during the pandemic. The internet has tremendous power to connect and empower individuals, but as centers of power online grow larger they become less affable to individual users and less responsive to their needs. As part of this project, we’ve held two online events.


The internet has tremendous power to connect and empower individuals, but as centers of power online grow larger they become less affable to individual users and less responsive to their needs. As part of this project, we held two online events in 2021. EXHIBIT centered the experiences of sex workers, artists, and content creators, and IMAGINE delved into the experiences of writers, poets, bloggers, wordsmiths, publishers, editors. For pandemic related reasons, we were delayed in hosting the remaining two events: GATHER, about movement building and political organising on digital platforms and CREATE, about the experiences of musicians. We are hopeful we will be able to do so in early 2022, perhaps even in person. Our aim is to create a grassroots narrative to guide the way Internet public spaces are governed in Australia.


MELBOURNE SURVEILLANCE TRACK As part of Melbourne Knowledge Week, and our work on “smart cities”, DRW created a virtual and in real life guided walking tour of the Melbourne streets. The idea of this project was to ask: as our world becomes more digitally dependent, how can we take an active role in shaping the kind of smart city we want to live in? The tour aimed to help participants understand the ways that surveillance is already being used in our public spaces. The tour explores how we are watched, tracked, and monitored as we go about each day, and is free and available for people to take and adapt to their own adventure.



OUR TALENTED AND INTREPID STAFF In 2021 DRW had our first full year with a team of staff.

LUCIE KRAHULCOVA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Lucie came on board in August 2020 to help steer DRW through our first big growth stage. In 2021 she represented us on local radio, small and big media publications, and international fora like the Atlantic Council. If you follow our work you would have seen her moderate everything from our RightsCon session, to our State of Digital Reports Launch or our IMAGINE event, co-host our submission writing workshop together with Justin Warren from EFA or ramble on about the importance of encryption and anonymity in our other events. This year she also joined the Monash University Master of Communications and Media Studies Industry Advisory Board. If you want to see everything Lucie’s written this year you can scroll to our Year in Review a few pages down!


Sam joined us in May 2020, and began a full-time role as our Program Lead in September 2021. As a self-confessed privacy nerd, Sam worked hard over 2021 to advocate for, and raise awareness about, privacy. She is particularly interested in applying a collective and feminist lens, which she explored in writing on 'Why Digital Privacy is a Feminist Issue' for Overland, and delivering a talk on Privacy as a Collective Issue at PyCon.

As a proponent for meeting people where they are, Sam likes to communicate complex digital rights issues in creative ways. One way she did this in 2021 was by starting and growing the DRW Instagram. Sam has also led a significant amount of our work in the online safety space, dedicating time to policy submissions, blog posts and explainers, radio spots and collaborating with other like-minded organisations.



WRITTEN BY THE DRW TEAM New York Times, ‘Can Australia Save Journalism From the Internet?’ by Lizzie O’Shea Sydney Morning Herald, ‘A pox on Facebook, but also on the media bargaining code’ by Sam Floreani Overland, 'The misinformation engine' by Lizzie O'Shea and Mark Andrejevic Canberra Times, ‘Proposed online 'safety' measures may do more harm than good’ Sam Floreani The Saturday Paper, ‘Flaws in new online safety laws’ by Lucie Krahulcova and Lizzie O’Shea The Saturday Paper, ‘The growth of the digital surveillance’ by Lucie Krahulcova and Lizzie O’Shea Overland, ‘Online anonymity is really important, actually’ by Sam Floreani The Conversation, 'Coles and Woolworths are moving to robot warehouses and on-demand labour as home deliveries soar' by Lauren Kelly

TV AND RADIO Lizzie joined The Drum on the ABC in February, March, and December to discuss The News Media Bargaining Code, surveillance, vaccine passports, digital payment systems and the Right to Repair Lucie was featured on Triple J Hack to discuss the Online Safety Act. We made frequent appearances on 3CR Community Radio. Sam joined the Tuesday Breakfast team in February to discuss privacy, police and women’s safety, and in December to discuss the Basic Online Safety Expectations. Lizzie joined Earth Matters to discuss digital threats to activism. Lucie spoke extensively about surveillance powers on RRR, 3CR, BayFM. Lizzie also joined ABC Radio National. Tom Sulston joined Diffusion Radio to discuss the 2021 Census, and Sam joined later in the year to discuss the Right to Repair Sam joined The Grapevine on 3RRR about the metaverse and the future of the internet.

PODCAST, ANYONE? For a couple of years now, Lizzie has co-hosted a fortnightly webinar with Peter Lewis from the Centre for Responsible Technology and Dan Stinton from the Guardian about technology and politics. This year it was rebranded, and while it remains an interactive webinar, it’s also a podcast called Burning Platforms. All episodes are hosted on the Centre for Responsible Technology’s YouTube channel with a lively and growing community participating in these discussions.





While 2021 once again challenged traditional event making, we at DRW took to the Internet to deliver two of our own events, participate in Burning Platforms, and a series of talks and debates in partnership with our partner organizations.



POLICY SUBMISSIONS It’s been a busy year for submissions to various international and domestic bodies. Here is a list of our submissions: Submission to the Economics Legislation Committee on the proposed Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 (January) Submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) on the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 (February) Submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication on the proposed Online Safety Bill 2020 (February) Submission to the Digital Transformation Agency on the Digital Identity Legislation Position Paper (July) Joint submission with Electronic Frontiers Australia to the Productivity Commission on the draft report on The Right to Repair (August) Submission to the eSafety Commission on the discussion paper on the Restricted Access Systems Declaration (September) Submission to the Digital Transformation Agency on the Digital Identity Exposure Draft (October) Group submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement in relation to the Abhorrent Violent Material Act (October) Joint submission with Global Partners Digital to the eSafety Commission on the draft Online Safety (Basic Online Safety Expectations) Determination 2021 (November) Submission to the eSafety Commission on the draft Restricted Access Systems Declaration 2021 (November) Submission to the Attorney-General on the proposed Privacy Legislation Amendment (Enhancing Online Privacy and Other Measures) Bill 2021 (December)



Our year in review January Launched our State of Digital Rights Report: a 2020 Retrospective with a special online event. Provided feedback to DIGI on their misinformation and disinformation code. Welcomed Lauren Kelly to the DRW Board. February Featured on Byte Into IT alongside Electronic Frontiers Australia to reflect on digital rights in 2020. Lizzie delivered a keynote address at WACOSS Conference on why advancing welfare rights is a digital issue. Sam wrote a piece for Overland explaining why digital privacy is a feminist issue and spoke about it further on 3CR. Contributed to the public debate regarding the News Media Bargaining Code, including on television and radio. Lizzie wrote for the New York Times, Overland, and spoke with ABC News, Al Jazeera, Tech Won't Save Us Podcast and the Green Left Weekly. Published an explainer on the Online Safety Bill, which was widely shared across social media.

Contended with the Facebook News Ban arising from the debate about the News Media Bargaining code. DRW stopped actively using Facebook as a result. Participated in a Senate Inquiry hearing into the Online Safety Bill. March Lucie featured in The Canberra Times about the problems with the News Media Bargaining Code. Lizzie joined The Drum on ABC to discuss surveillance and vaccine passports. Published a blog post on techno-solutionism, in response to the NSW Police Commissioner suggesting an app for sexual consent. Sam joined the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner to discuss feminism and privacy for International Women's Day. Participated in public discussion and media about the Online Safety Bill, including an article for The Saturday Paper and The Canberra Times, and appearing on the 7am Podcast and Triple J Hack,


April Ran an in-person guided tour and developed a selfguided audio tour through the streets of Melbourne CBD for participants to learn about public space surveillance as part of Melbourne Knowledge Week. Lizzie joined Peter Lewis and Eli Pariser to discuss how social media companies have failed us. Published a blog post on why anonymity online is important. Lizzie joined the Earth Matters team at 3CR to discuss how the Online Safety Bill impacts activism. Sam appeared on 4zzz Radio to explain the challenges and problems with facial recognition technology.


May Lizzie joined the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner for a special Privacy Awareness Week event. Lilly Ryan (board member) joined Melbourne Activist Legal Support to share insights into activism, digital security and surveillance as part of Melbourne Law Week. Lizzie joined the Australian Society for Computers and Law for a discussion on how to build technology as a tool for social good. June Hosted a session at RightsCon, moderated by Lucie, to explore the News Media Bargaining Code, and how it could be reimagined to make a more equitable system. News about Operation Ironside dropped, and Lucie spent time discussing encryption and law enforcement powers with Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, ABC Radio National and at an Internet Association event. Published a blog post on why policy grounded in surveillance will not protect women

July Hosted EXHIBIT - the first event examining how to rebalance the internet economy, focusing on the experience of sex workers, artists and content creators. Lucie featured on a panel at Splendour XR on Artificial Intelligence and the ethical costs of AI bias. Lizzie participated in a webinar with Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow to discuss facial recognition in Australia. Sam spoke with The Guardian about NSW police trials of facial recognition. August Lizzie and Mark Andrejevic (board member) wrote a reflection on the News Media Bargaining Code and how it is impacting misinformation online. Lauren Kelly (board member) wrote a piece for The Conversation exploring the impact of 'smart supermarkets' and how automation is changing labour. She also spoke about it with the ABC. Tom Sulston (board member) joined Diffusion Radio to discuss the 2021 Census.


Lilly Ryan (board member) featured on a YouTube livestream to deep dive into the privacy and inclusion issues of the 2021 Census. DRW joined over 90 digital rights organisations to ask Apple to drop image surveillance plans. September Hosted IMAGINE as part of our community research project on how to rebalance the internet economy, focusing on writers and storytellers. Participated in PyCon AU, with Sam speaking on privacy as a collective issue and Lilly talking about how to remove unwanted javascript from web apps. Sam featured in a discussion hosted by the City of Melbourne for Melbourne Conversations: The Digital Literacy Gap. Lizzie presented at XConf by Thoughtworks about tech for people, not users. Published an explainer on the surveillance powers in the Identify and Disrupt Act, and Lucie spoke extensively with media including RRR, 3CR and BayFM.


... our year continued October Collaborated with Electronic Frontiers Australia to host an online workshop on how to write a policy submission. Hosted a live Q&A on encryption with the Oxen Privacy Tech Foundation to celebrate Global Encryption Day. Teamed up with the Human Rights Law Centre to write a joint letter to federal and state health ministers, calling for strong privacy protections in home quarantine apps. Sam spoke with The Age about security and privacy issues with online learning environments Lizzie featured on the National Security Podcast about Australia's electronic surveillance laws. Lucie joined the Global Justice Data team on their podcast, Resist and Reboot to discuss local digital governance. November Co-hosted a roundtable with Twitter, focusing on anonymity and pseudonymity online and why it matters Lucie participated in a Parliamentary hearing about the Abhorrent Violent Material Act.

Sam joined the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner for a panel on privacy and consent. Published an explainer on the Basic Online Safety Expectations as part of the Online Safety Act. Sam joined The Grapevine on 3RRR to discuss the metaverse and the future of the internet December Were featured in InnovationAus about the mad rush of tech policy proposals at the end of the year, and urging the government to drop age verification plans. Lizzie and Mark were published as contributors to the Centre for Responsible Technology's book: The Public Square Project. Sam participated in a roundtable event with the Young and Resilient Research Centre about young people, privacy and age verification. Lizzie featured on The Drum to discuss digital payments and the Right to Repair. Published our popular Digital Rights Advent Calendar.



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 Global Encryption Coalition Save Aus 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 City of Melbourne The Centre for Responsible Technology CHOICE Deakin University Criminology Digital Data & Society Consortium European Digital Rights (EDRi) Electronic Frontiers Australia Electronic Frontiers Foundation Fight for the Future Future Wise GetUp! Global Partners Digital Hack for Privacy Human Rights Law Centre Internet Society (ISOC) The Juice Media Liberty Victoria Melbourne Activist Legal Network 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.


SHOW US YOUR DIGITS Supporters | 11,982 Formal members of the organisation | 138 Social media followers FB Followers 7909 (up from 7898 in 2020*; 1541 from 2019) Twitter 6303 (up from 4789), LinkedIn: 499 (up from 214), Instagram 1151 (up from 172) *In response to the Facebook news ban (arising from the Media Bargaining Code) we have ceased our engagement on that platform from early 2021. You can read a full statement on our website.

We approached 2021 with a brand new communications strategy which lead to great results!

We've been particularly focused on translating our policy work to Instagram and Twitter through visuals...



PUBLIC AND PHILANTHROPIC SUPPORT We have put significant effort into the financial viability of Digital Rights Watch through the year. As a result, we were able to support staff this year. We will continue to build the stability of the organisation to operate independently. A big thank you to the wonderful team behind Fastmail, who are not only incredible digital rights supporters, but actively support us by running our email server and donating to support our policy work!! And thank you to the helpful team at Twitter who have a keen eye for digital rights policy challenges and who have given us two rounds of advertising credits on their platform to support and boost our policy and campaigns.

Huge thanks to the Internet Society (ISOC) Future of the Internet Grants In 2021 ISOC awarded over $1 million through their research grant programme to projects that examine the future and sustainability of the Internet. In its pilot year, the programme sought to support a diverse group of researchers who are generating solutions today to meet the Internet challenges of tomorrow.

This grant has supported our Rebalancing the Internet Economy project! The work their grants are facilitating is global in scope and impact and we’re very proud to be in their first cohort of grantees.

Direct contributions from our supporters allow us to work freely, responding to the most critical issues:







DRW THEMATIC AREAS REMAIN Privacy and personal information Surveillance and digital security Connectivity and power Government use of data & technology

We aim to achieve our mission by... Movement Building―Increase the level of support for digital rights across the public and civil society by enabling participation in projects and activities, and encouraging decentralised activities in collaboration with DRW. Advocacy and Awareness―Drive change through the media (press releases, commentary), events and planned advocacy projects. Policy Development and Influence―Improve organisation and government policies and laws through initiating new policy frameworks and contributing to discussions and submissions on policy and regulation formation. Public Education―Strengthen capacity of the broader public and specific sectors through workshops, toolkits and online courses.

Our next frontiers to conquer are: Create more public education content: including more toolkits, how-to's, fact sheets, explainers and digital products. Create more resources for holding elected representatives to account, for example by building mobilisation tools to assist people in reaching out. Seek out opportunities for more localised engagement with government that can demonstrate best practice and also raise awareness at the grassroots. Continue on engaging our membership and focus on building movement. Build out academic collaborations for greater impact on digital rights!

What's on our agenda for 2022? Privacy Act Review Parliamentary Inquiry into Social Media and Online Safety Social Media (Anti Trolling) Bill (and similar ad-hoc efforts by the govt) Reform of Australia's electronic surveillance framework Copyright reform legislation Roadmap to age verification for online pornography (and eSafety related files)



PRIORITIES FOR 2022 There is no rest for digital rights advocates! In 2022 we will remain focused on mitigating government efforts to control and coerce our online space with a special eye on the Privacy Act review and the new effort to *wholesale* reform electronic surveillance.

Our Rebalancing the Internet Economy project―through which we aim to highlight the experiences of individual creators and doers online―will continue in 2022. We've got two more events lined up in the coming months, and in the middle of the year you can expect our final report! We will be sharing our findings and community feedback with MPs and government departments, and, quite frankly, we're excited to keep advocating for the free and open internet.

The Australian government is intent on being seen as bold and forward thinking when it comes to regulating tech, but all we have seen play out over 2021 is inconsistent punitive policies which punish individuals instead of protecting the most vulnerable among us. That simply won't do.

Stay strong and stay in touch!




Lizzie O’Shea | Chair & Secretary Tom Sulston | Deputy Chair Lilly Ryan | Treasurer Vanessa Toholka SPECIAL THANKS* *for participating in our events, projects, helping us think through Lauren Kelly policy challenges, and/or supporting digital rights over 2021 Kirsty Albion Penny Kyburz Joshua Badge Mark Andrejevic Kimberley Benjamin Justin Clacherty

Chris Cooper ...and Hugh de Kretser Robin Doherty Erin Farley | Media Manager Suelette Dreyfus Alice Drury Kieran Pender Rebecca Giblin April Hélène-Horton Lyndsey Jackson Patrick Lenton Peter Lewis Scott Ludlam Giordano Nanni Leanne O’Donnell Roslyn Orlando Moir Felicity Ruby Ed Santow John Stanton Dr Zahra Stardust Kathryn Gledhill-Tucker Jake Goldenfein Eliza Sorensen Lola Hunt Gala Vanting Dr Emily van der Nagel Tahlia Davies Kara Hinesley Professor David Kaye Dhakshayini Sooriyakumaran Anna Johnston Vanessa Teague Justin Warren Sam de Silva Amy Denmeade




CONTACT You can reach out to us for more information



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