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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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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Responding to the Attorney-General’s refusal to publish more than 5,500 submissions on the Government’s proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, the Pirate Party has lodged a freedom of information for the release of those documents[1]. The refusal to release these documents has been referred to as “ironic” given the amendments were designed to improve freedom of speech in Australia[2]. In May this year the Attorney-General announced the Government was reconsidering the amendments[3].

Brendan Molloy, Councillor of the Pirate Party commented: “This is an unusual and overwhelming number of submissions. In our experience legislative inquiries and reviews are unlikely to reach 100 submissions. The fact that over 5,000 were received demonstrates an obviously enormous public interest in the legislation, and opposition must have been extreme for the Government to be so tight-lipped on these submissions. There is no decent reason why these submissions should not be made available to the public.”

“This Government has shown a worrying tendency against transparency in the ten months it has been elected. There has been a pattern of refusal to operate transparently, from refusing to release departmental briefs even after freedom of information requests were made[4] to the expansive and secretive scope of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’[5]. The Government has refused to allow the Human Rights Commissioner to visit the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island for the preposterous and bureaucratic reason that the Commission’s jurisdiction does not extend past Australia’s borders[6]. In addition to all of this, the appalling track record of the current and former governments has overburdened the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. It takes several months for the OAIC to review rejected freedom of information requests, and instead of providing more resources, the Abbott Government is axing it![7]“

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Pirate Party Australia has seized upon questions presented by Senator Scott Ludlam to Attorney-General George Brandis during Senate Estimates regarding the Federal Government’s copyright policy and proposals to curb online copyright infringement[1]. The Attorney-General’s responses display Brandis’ inability to properly answer questions on the matter, and suggest that he and his department are solely interested in consulting with industry and copyright holders when forming policy.

The Attorney-General was unable to confirm whether he had consulted with consumer and public interest groups on proposals to introduce a graduated response (“three strikes”) scheme to target file-sharing. Graduated response regimes have been implemented overseas and result in fines and disconnections for those alleged to have infringed copyright online. There is limited evidence to suggest these regimes are effective.

“The vague responses and misdirection by Senator Brandis confirm that the process of developing an anti-infringement strategy is being hidden from the Australian public, and further to that offer no confirmation as to whether there has even been any consultation with consumer groups,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia.

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Pirate Party Australia has today launched a Senate petition in retaliation against Cabinet’s consideration of anti-piracy measures. It was reported on Monday that proposals were being considered by the Government to introduce a graduated response (“three strikes”) regime and mandatory website blocking, tactics which have failed elsewhere[1]. The petition is open for signature on change.org.

Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia, commented: “There has been no evidence advanced that graduated response regimes are effective. In fact, academic literature on the matter has been sceptical that they have any measurable impact on reducing file-sharing[2][3]. Instead, there is evidence that increasing access to content through legitimate services such as Netflix and Spotify has significantly reduced file-sharing[4]. It has also been shown in an important court decision in the Netherlands that there is yet to be a proven benefit to blocking websites. The Dutch experience indicates that blocking access is ineffective, and not surprisingly people will simply find ways around blockades[5].”

Mr Molloy continued: “Our petition is intended to remind the Senate of its obligations as the House of Review. It lays out detailed reasons for opposition to the proposals — including that neither will work — and calls on the Senate to reject any legislation instituting either a graduated response scheme or website blocking.”

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