Several days ago, the Australian Government’s ‘COVIDSafe’ contact-tracing app was released.

Two main questions arise: will it work, and is it trustworthy? The Government has stated that at least 40% of the population will need to use it for it to be effective, and Oxford experts suggest that number is 60% [1], so these questions are closely linked.

“One reason why people might choose not to install the app is a deficit of trust,” said Alex Jago, Secretary of Pirate Party Australia. “Unfortunately, the Government has a long history of trading away privacy and information security. Asking people to self-surveil on top of that is a step too far for many.”

Examples of how the Government has consistently acted against privacy are plentiful [2]. Metadata retention (2015) and the “Assistance and Access” Act (2018) are simply two of the more objectionable.

“In the past fortnight, there were some particularly farcical moments when several MPs announced they would not be using the app, citing privacy concerns,” continued Alex. “Given past voting records, we can only hope this represents a permanent change of heart.”

 

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In 1817, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We are now in a global crisis that puts this mantra into stark relief. In the name of preventing the spread of the virus massive quarantines are being enacted all over the world with many countries enforcing it with the army, police and huge fines. But quarantine isn’t the only threat to liberty in these times in the UK, private companies are working with the NHS (National Health Service) are gaining access to domestic health records to develop a data analytics platform[1] while multiple countries are experimenting with or deploying cellphone tracking to help control virus spread[2][3] while US and Chinese tech companies are exploring a massive release of their users location data[4][5]. Meanwhile in Europe, America and Australia many countries are only just starting to recommend their citizens go into self quarantine.

The most extreme response is in China where the outbreak originated, where CCTV has been installed outside the homes of infected individuals[6] and remotely piloted drones warn people to wear masks and stay inside[5]. But Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea have also implemented similarly extreme forms of data tracking[6].

The data, assuming it’s accurate, speaks for itself though. China and South Korea have seen a massive drop in new infection rates. As a necessary cost for preventing mass deaths due to Coronavirus, health professionals are recommending that our liberty must be temporarily reduced. We cannot be free if we are dead. Virginia Woolf said it best. “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” Our minds must be more free and vigilant than ever in monitoring for tyranny.

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This was not the way to welcome the new year…

The bushfire crisis has put a spotlight on how the Coalition Government has tried to portray their diversionary heel-dragging as strategic action. It has exposed their hypocrisies in foreign and domestic policy, and shown how barren and self-serving their whole approach to governance has been and continues to be.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously waved around a lump of coal in Parliament, and former Coalition Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lost the leadership when an anti-climate-change faction within the Liberal Party flexed its muscles.

Longstanding advice from the CSIRO has been ignored. [1] Ross Garnaut’s report has been ignored. [2] Recent attempts at communication by retired fire chiefs warning of the danger were also ignored. [3] Yet Prime Minister Morrison did find the time to talk to about 20 people in order to develop his religious freedom bill.

It all speaks to a Federal Government which has no credibility in engaging with the very real threats to Australia.

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“Since his arrest and imprisonment by UK authorities, we have seen the US Government take the draconian action of compiling charges which would result in the imprisonment of Assange for 175 years [1], an assessment by a UN body seeing Assange as the victim of concerted abuse involving 4 democratic nation states over numerous years [2], and a misleading statement being issued by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) over accusations of its failure to protect a citizen [3]”, said John August, Deputy President of Pirate Party Australia.

Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Professor of International Law, University of Glasgow, speaks to the effect that Julian Assange’s situation has had on his mental health, with his comments that “in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.” He further comments that: “In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.” [2]

Along with two medical specialists, Professor Melzer visited Mr. Assange in Belmarsh high security prison in early May, concluding: “The evidence is overwhelming and clear. Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.” Further, he comments: “I fear if that pressure is not alleviated soon it might escalate in terms of the psychological consequences – and I think that’s what we’re now seeing.” Commenting on Australian assistance for Assange, Mr. Melzer said: “Australia is a glaring absence in this case. They’re just not around, as if Assange was not an Australian citizen. That is not the correct way of dealing with that.” [4]

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Election day. A time to reflect on what business as usual has delivered for Australia over the last 20 years:

  • More than sixty bills attacking civil liberties
  • Rising inequality and stagnant wages
  • Unaffordable housing
  • Record mass extinctions across our continent
  • Water pillage and gross corruption
  • Bungled wars of choice that never end

It doesn’t have to go on like that.

Today we can take a stand for freedom and civil liberties, a bill of rights, a shift of power back to communities, a basic income and better treatment for our poorest, proper environmental stewardship, action on climate change, transparency in government, a freer public domain and culture, decent digital age infrastructure, a national science plan, serious economic reform and a solution to parasitic rentierism, stronger animal welfare protections, an end to the war on drugs, and decent treatment for asylum seekers.

Vote for policies with actual citations. Vote to do things differently.

#votepirate

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