The Pirate Party urges caution following the announcement by the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, that retrospective legislation will be introduced to criminalise the re-identification of de-identified government data. The threat of retrospective legislation may be a ploy to silence critics of the government for discussing flaws in government-published datasets without due process. Consequently, this may prevent anyone bringing security flaws in government practices to attention — including the attention of the Government.
In a media release issued on Wednesday afternoon the Attorney-General announced his intention to introduce new laws aimed at protecting data published by the Government. These changes appear to completely miss their mark, and may in fact criminalise the inspection of datasets for flaws and faults. The broad terms of the proposal could easily implicate any researchers in the field of data anonymity — anyone whose research involves examining datasets for potential privacy flaws.
With fresh moves afoot to remove the words insult and offend from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, the Pirate Party calls upon Parliament to get serious about supporting free speech.
“Pirate Party Australia is well aware of the risks around state censorship of opinions,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “We fought the Internet censorship laws of the Rudd Government and we opposed the Gillard Government’s attempt to extend section 18C in ways that would have banned causing offence on the grounds of religion and political opinion.”
As millions of people simultaneously attempted to log in to complete their census forms last night, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) servers failed under the enormous traffic load. The ABS has blamed this on a hardware router failure, a false positive in a monitoring system, and external attackers who were allegedly attempting to overload the servers through a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack occurring at the same time. David Kalisch, head of the ABS, claimed that the servers were taken offline between 7:30 pm AEST, after which time the main social media accounts continued to advise people that there was no problem and to complete the Census forms until 10 pm.
“The public was advised prior to the Census that it would not be a target for attack. The claims made after the event call into question the competence of those who planned the Census, as well as the Minister responsible,” commented Simon Frew, Pirate Party President. “The ABS has already breached the public’s trust by admitting to retaining personal information and enabling the linking of external datasets. They have now made that worse by incompetently allowing the online data collection to fail.”
Despite the serious privacy concerns first raised by the Pirate Party in March, and now shared by thousands of Australians as well as the Greens, Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has continued to forge ahead with the invasive 2016 Census. For the first time the ABS is planning to keep names for four years, linking very personal information asked by the Census questionnaire. Like many, the Pirate Party has raised objections to the collection of identifying information, and now calls on the ABS to declare the giving of “Name” and “Address” optional.
“The ABS has not properly consulted with the Australian public on this new, more invasive version of the Census,” said Simon Frew, President of the Pirate Party. “Names are not required by law according to former Australian Statistician Bill McLennan [PDF], and it is difficult to see how names could help with statistical analysis. Collecting names does, however, increase the danger of privacy breaches for Australian citizens which, given the ABS has been subject to 14 data breaches in the last three years, is particularly concerning. A simple way for the ABS put many Australians at ease is to make it optional for people to give their names and address.”
The Pirate Party’s commitment to privacy and digital rights is reflected by it topping the election scorecards of Electronic Frontiers Australia, Digital Rights Watch, and the Australian Privacy Foundation. As the closing arguments of the first website blocking case under section 115A of the Copyright Act was heard in the Federal Court, the Pirate Party seeks to put digital rights and freedoms of the 2016 federal election agenda.
“This is precisely the type of court case that the Pirate Party was formed to try to stop,” said Victorian Senate Candidate Lachlan Simpson. “Censorship of the Internet is not something that should be tolerated in a free society regardless of threats to media business models. We now live in an information rich world, and it is incumbent upon media organisations to adapt to the technology rather than try to lock it up behind court-enforced website blocking that is, in practice, largely ineffective. Censoring the Internet to try to limit access to content is akin to scribes wanting to ban the printing press to ensure their jobs.”