Pirate Party Australia is outraged by a Liberal-National Coalition (LNP) plan to ban environmental boycotts[1]. While specifics of the plan are yet to be announced, it appears to be a serious assault on both free speech and the free market.

The freedom to disseminate information regarding the activities of companies for purposes of increasing consumer awareness and to encourage environmentally sound practices through boycotts is vital for those wishing to act beyond the limited environmental controls legislated by Parliament.

“This proposal is a serious assault on the very fabric of democracy,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “The Government can enforce minimum standards, but activist organisations have the right to pressure industries to adopt higher standards. A free society depends on the free exchange of ideas, and this move by the LNP puts serious limitations on that exchange occurring around issues that millions of people may view as important.”

“By limiting the ability of consumers to leverage their collective buying power to encourage ethical business practices, the Government plans to limit consumers’ ability to decide what ethics they expect companies to uphold,” Mr Frew continued. “Such a plan could eventually be extended to ending the labelling of ethical and environmentally friendly products. The free market includes the right to spend money according to your values, and the Government appears to be trying to impose their own morality — or amorality — on Australian citizens.”

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As the major parties descend into an ever increasingly infantile debate, Fairfax reporter Judith Ireland reports that copyright law is being engaged as a tool to suppress parody videos on YouTube in the Australian election campaign[1]. While this may appear trivial, it illustrates a larger, more serious issue.

“It’s an alarming development, however not surprising, that copyright is now being used as a tool for censorship in Australian politics. This is a perfect example of how copyright can be utilised to undermine free speech. While the subject here may be a relatively childish parody, if such abuse of copyright law were to become normalised it could impede legitimate political discourse and speech during a time-sensitive election campaign,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia.

Unfortunately it is very easy to use copyright as a censorship tool as the onus of proof is on the person being targeted with a takedown notice. In issues where time is of the essence, a takedown notice can be used to silence an opponent and by the time they have appealed and had their material reinstated, the opportunity to get a message heard can be missed. According to Google over one third of takedown notices are not valid copyright claims[2] and examples of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) being used for censorship are broad and many, be it doctors using it to silence negative reviews[3], businesses silencing competitors[4], through to it being used to remove video footage of war crimes[5].

“There are many issues with copyright and this is a clear illustration of one of them. The Pirate Party provides the most comprehensive intellectual property rights reform platform[6] of all parties in this election, and with the copyright monopoly threatening to step up the campaign after the election[7], those that value free culture, information and knowledge and reasonable intellectual property rights should consider a vote for the Pirate Party as insurance against draconian reforms proposed by industry bodies,” concluded Mr. Frew.

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Pirate Party Australia finds the guilty verdicts handed down in the case of prominent whistleblower, US Pfc Bradley Manning, to be deeply disturbing. Fortunately for the former US Army Private, Mr Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, a bittersweet victory for both himself and journalistic integrity[1].

Mr Manning provided a wealth of classified material, including the infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ video portraying the murder of 11 unarmed civilians in Baghdad, including two Reuters’ journalists, in 2007[2]. The release of this video, among other material, elevated WikiLeaks from relative obscurity to one of the most well known and controversal journalistic organisations in the world today.

Pirate Party Australia is of the opinion that, in light of the war crimes exposed, the revelations of government corruption, and the evidence of a deliberate, systematic misinformation campaign targeted at the public, Bradley Manning should have been acquitted of all charges. Mr Manning has been held in conditions that have been publicly condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture for three years before finally being sentenced. His treatment has been described by the Rapporteur as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and prejudicial to the presumption of innocence[3].

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The Council of Europe’s Cybercrime Convention was ratified by Australia on Friday, 1 March 2013[1]. Pirate Party Australia has previously criticised the Convention for being flawed in regard to the protection of privacy and personal data[2].

The Pirate Party notes that the Australian Parliament has already passed a comprehensive piece of legislation in August 2012 that complies with the requirements of the Cybercrime Convention. The pious-sounding Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Act 2012[3] includes the ability for a foreign country to ask Australia for a communication by an Australian if the crime for which they are accused carries the death penalty in the requesting country.

The current legislation could allow a country to gather data about Australian citizens for any crime with a penalty exceeding $100,000, or that carries the death penalty. Due to the loose dual-criminality provisions within the Act, this could potentially allow countries with blasphemy laws, criminal copyright provisions or laws against activism to access Australian data.

The treaty’s entry into force comes at a time when the Australian Government, with the support of various law enforcement agencies, is examining an extensive range of proposed amendments to national security and intelligence legislation and regulations. Included among these changes are the mandatory, warrantless two-year retention of the Internet communications of all Australians, the ability for law enforcement agencies to not only remotely access citizens computers but to also add software and other files to them, as well as penalties for failing to assist in decrypting encrypted data.

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Australian Greens, Pirate Party Australia combined press release

Australian Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam will table a petition in the Senate tomorrow circulated by Pirate Party Australia and comprising 1447 signatures raising serious concerns about proposed changes to national security laws.

The signatories have presented objections to the proposals under discussion by the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security Inquiry into potential reforms of National Security Legislation (#natsecinquiry).

“98.9 per cent of the five and a half thousand submissions received by the Committee are opposed to the unnecessary and dangerously vague data retention proposal and other draconian ideas suggested by the Attorney General’s Department,” said Senator Ludlam.

Pirate Party Secretary Brendan Molloy said, “The petitioners object to penalties for failing to provide computer passwords and near unrestricted interception of communications, as well as the appallingly short window of time provided by the Committee to make a submission, of which the Pirate Party campaigned for an extension.”

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