News that the Federal Government’s financial regulator, ASIC, has started forcing Australian ISPs to block websites it suspects of providing fraudulent financial opportunities has set off warning bells for Pirate Party Australia.
The Party has long been a critic of the imposition of filtering regimes on Australian Internet users, taking particular objection to the lack of oversight and competency involved. The ASIC incident has proven to be no exception: 1,200 websites were wrongly and inadvertently blocked as a result of a single request. The IP address used by the fraudulent site was shared with several others, including the independent learning organisation Melbourne Free University.
ASIC’s order to block the website relied upon section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to justify the block, appearing to be the second time ASIC has attempted to have a website blocked.
Witnesses at ongoing negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) in Singapore have reported that Disney has called for an increase in copyright terms, to the disdain of the unsurprised Pirate Party Australia. Like all previous rounds it is unclear exactly what is being negotiated, as the process is completely opaque.
Pirate Party Australia is opposed to Australia’s continued involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on the grounds that it is not being negotiated transparently, and leaked texts show strong pushes for stricter intellectual property regimes. Such provisions have been likened to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which Australia is a signatory to, but which last year was defeated in the European Parliament following massive protests across the European Union.
“Yesterday saw the first day of stakeholder negotiations of the latest round. Of particular note was a representative from Disney claiming that copyright terms needed to be expanded to protect its intellectual property, highlighting visits to Disney Land and being able to see IronMan 3 as reasons for longer copyright terms,” said Simon Frew, Deputy President of Pirate Party Australia.
Pirate Party Australia has made a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department regarding the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
In its submission the Pirate Party calls for an end to blanket exemptions for intelligence agencies like ASIO, encouraging the application of the FOI framework to all government organisations and agencies. The submission refers to several cases involving the Party’s own freedom of information requests, notably the lack of success in bringing transparency to meetings between the Attorney-General’s Department and industry regarding file-sharing, and the refusal to release draft national security legislation which has been appealed to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
Having been refused access to draft national security legislation and preparatory texts, Pirate Party Australia has appealed to the Australian Office of the Information Commissioner for a review of the decisions of the Attorney General’s Department in the hope of gaining access to the documents.
“After what was a disgraceful decision by the bureaucrats at the Attorney General’s Department to suppress these documents, we have now elected to appeal to the Information Commissioner so that we might finally come to understand the position of the Attorney General’s Department, and the advice they have received thus far,” said Rodney Serkowski, speaking for Pirate Party Australia.
“Whilst we have seen improvements in Freedom of Information laws in this country, there is still vast room for improvement, with the culture of secrecy still permeating throughout the public service. Processes and information that should be publicly available, are being suppressed for political reasons and to inhibit meaningful scrutiny and participation by non-governmental organisations and civil society,” Mr Serkowski.
The Attorney General’s Department has rejected a Freedom of Information request made by Pirate Party Australia treasurer Rodney Serkowski regarding draft national security legislation that was prepared in 2010 by that department.
“This is a disgraceful and troubling response from the Attorney-General’s Department,” Mr Serkowski commented. “They have completed draft legislation, prior to any transparent or consultative process, and are now denying access to that legislation, for reasons that are highly dubious and obviously politically motivated. The Department is completely trashing any semblance or notion of transparency or participative democratic process of policy development.”
“Where the legislative proposals almost certainly mean the complete erosion of fundamental freedoms like privacy, it is in the public interest that we are able to access the text of such proposals so as to properly inform public debate. We want transparent government and private citizens, not the opposite.”
Pirate Party Australia will appeal the decision of the Department to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) seeking to have the draft legislation and prepatory texts released.