In response to the Senate’s passing of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 last Thursday, the Pirate Party has updated its policies to specifically oppose the Bill and support its repeal in the likely case where the lower house also approves it in the coming days[1].

The Bill makes major amendments to the ASIO Act, giving ASIO the ability to access, modify, copy and delete information on computers. ASIO may also be able to apply for a computer access warrant broad enough to cover every device on the Internet at once. Other amendments will introduce tough sentences for journalists and whistleblowers who report or disclose sensitive information, even if it is in the public interest.

The legislation also grants blanket immunity from prosecution for many illegal acts undertaken as necessary under a “special intelligence operation”, effectively granting ASIO unprecedented powers without the necessary checks and balances required by a legitimate liberal democracy.

Party President Brendan Molloy commented: “Labor has farcically waved through some of the most onerous legislation of the last decade with little more than a rubber stamp, as the Liberal Party whips up yet another fear-based storm of ‘national unity’ with insufficient evidential basis. This legislation criminalises journalism and whistleblowing, regardless of the public interest, while effectively granting ASIO agents the power to do anything they please.

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Australians have just suffered an enormous blow to their freedoms with the Senate passing legislation massively expanding ASIO’s surveillance powers and ramping up penalties for journalists and whistleblowers who report on or expose unlawful intelligence gathering operations. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (No 1) gives ASIO the ability to obtain a single warrant that could permit access to any device connected to the Internet, as well as the power to add, remove, modify and copy any data on those devices[1].

The Pirate Party is apalled that the Bill passed the Senate last night. The Bill gives vast new powers to spy agencies, attacks journalism and is a bigger threat to Australian democracy than any terrorist organisation. These are unprecedent surveillance powers, but are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Pirate Party’s Deputy President Simon Frew commented: “Parliament has just created what could be the broadest, most open-ended warrant system ever conceived. Our ‘representatives’ have deliberately avoided defining key terms, such as ‘computer’ and ‘network’, and refused to restrict the number of devices that could be accessed, which leaves us with a warrant that potentially covers the entire Internet. ASIO operatives will be permitted to access third party computers they think might help investigations, and they will be able to modify the contents without the owner’s knowledge. We simply can’t take our privacy for granted anymore.

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The Pirate Party is concerned that Friday’s decision of the Full Federal Court to uphold a patent over the BRCA1 breast cancer gene[1] poses an enormous threat to the treatment of breast cancer and future illnesses. Myriad Genetics’ patent is for the isolated BRCA1 gene, and was upheld on the basis that the isolated gene does not exist in isolated form naturally.

Pirate Party President, Brendan Molloy, commented: “The decision of the Court is disturbing to say the least. This is not an invention or a process — it is naturally occuring genetic material. A private company should not be able to own rights over genetic material found within our bodies.

“This will surely hamper future research into breast cancer, and also other health problems if more patents are granted on isolated genes. This is leaving the door wide open for extortionate licence fees, driving up the costs of further research and treatment.

“Now is the time for legislative intervention to make it clear that patents on isolated genetic material that is removed from its natural state should not be patentable. Monopolies should not be granted where the result of that monopoly is a public health risk.

“Like mathematical formulas, genes should not be patentable. No exceptions.”

The Pirate Party is supportive of any decision to appeal this further to the High Court. The Pirate Party’s patent policy opposes patents on isolated genetic material and proposes extensive patent reform to prevent detrimental effects on public health and innovation[2].

[1] http://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judgments/fca/full/2014/2014fcafc0115
[2] http://pirateparty.org.au/wiki/Policies/Patents

The Pirate Party made a lengthy submission to the Attorney-General’s Department last Friday, responding to the Department’s “Online Copyright Infringement” discussion paper[1]. The submission highlighted a number of flaws with the discussion paper, such as reliance upon studies commissioned by copyright lobbyists[2], and also drew attention to the lack of government action on recommendations that could reduce online copyright infringement by improving prices and availability of digital content in Australia[3].

It also highlighted the lack of reliable and independent empirical evidence for the discussion paper’s proposals, and criticised attempts by copyright lobbyists to compare copyright infringement with terrorism or the distribution of child sexual abuse materials[4]. The discussion paper proposes creating obligations for Internet service providers to cooperate with copyright holders, which may mean implementing a graduated response or “three strikes” scheme where Internet users are sent letters if accused of infringing copyright. It also proposes allowing copyright holders to seek injunctions requiring ISPs to block access to websites.

Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer, principal author of the Pirate Party’s submission, said: “The Government decided to focus its attention on changing consumer behaviour and our submission explains at great length why that approach just won’t work. If online copyright infringement is truly out of control, copyright holders only have themselves to blame. The reality is that increasing access and affordability of content will reduce online copyright infringement: just look at Steam, Netflix and Spotify. The discussion paper acknowledges this but its proposals are focused in entirely the wrong area.

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The Pirate Party is critical of the Government’s secrecy surrounding its most recent discussion paper on data retention. While the public is yet to see a formal proposal, telecommunications providers were given confidential advanced copies last Friday[1].

Pirate Party President Brendan Molloy commented: “No reason has been given for why the public must remain in the dark. This is a fundamentally undemocratic approach that excludes the major stakeholder — the Australian public. Botched media interviews and confused, conflicting statements over the past weeks have not provided any reassurance to Australians that the Government is competent enough to understand the enormous implications data retention has for our privacy. This is a highly controversial policy, and one that has already been rejected in the European Union precisely because it threatens privacy to such an unreasonable degree[2]. It is a complex area that needs great consideration and maximum public participation.

“No justifiable reason to store information that reveals individuals’ locations has been provided, let alone allowing access without a warrant. The Pirate Party’s position has been and continues to be that the threshold for access to stored data under existing arrangements is already too low, and must require a warrant. This extends to any further proposals.

“It also seems, despite the Attorney-General dismissing the suggestion, that the storage of information relating to download volumes is for the benefit of the copyright lobby. This was not on the cards previously, and we cannot fathom what use this information would be to the investigation of terrorism and other serious crimes.

“To mandate the retention of such vast quantities of information on all Australians is not a proportional nor necessary response to the perceived threats. The Attorney-General must immediately release this document in full, as well as future documents. Australians at large are the biggest stakeholders in these proposals, and have the right to be informed.”

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/data-retention-discussion-shrouded-in-secrecy-20140826-108fdr.html
[2] http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-04/cp140054en.pdf