GetUp! rejects Roxon’s “partisan spin”


news Citizen lobbying organisation GetUp! has published a strongly worded rejection of a YouTube video published by Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon yesterday relating to the Government’s current data retention and surveillance proposal, describing Roxon’s video as “partisan spin” and highlighting what it said were inaccuracies in it.

The Federal Attorney-General’s Department is currently promulgating a package of reforms which would see a number of wide-ranging changes made to make it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor what Australians are doing on the Internet. For example, one new power is a data retention protocol which would require ISPs to retain data on their customers’ Internet and telephone activities for up to two years, and changes which would empower agencies to source data on users’ activities on social networking sites. Another power would see it made illegal for Australians to refuse to decrypt their data, and warrants are also to be simplified and streamlined.

Yesterday, Roxon took to YouTube to make an impassioned plea to Australians not to believe some of the criticism which is being spread about the package, which has been widely slammed by a large number of interest groups as being over the top and akin to a “police state”. Part of the video was a direct response to an ongoing campaign by GetUp! on the issue, which has urged its members to oppose the proposal.

However, in a new statement published late yesterday, GetUp! rejected Roxon’s criticism of its campaign on the issue.

“GetUp has been engaged in a dialogue with the Attorney’s office for the last two weeks and on 6 September offered to give her the opportunity to participate in a live and unedited Question and Answer session on our website,” the organisation wrote. “We offered to give her an opportunity to make her case, and take questions from GetUp members who want to know more about these proposed changes.”

“GetUp made it clear that during this live broadcast the Attorney would be free to clarify her position on the changes and GetUp’s campaign against them. The offer was made to facilitate this from our Sydney office, or from her Parliament House or Electorate Office at her convenience.”

“Without having responded to that offer, the Attorney has claimed that GetUp had refused to distribute her response amongst our members. As an independent movement, we are not willing to distribute partisan spin to our members without the opportunity for those ideas to be challenged. Our democracy is best served by a robust debate, and our representatives should welcome the opportunity for a deeper engagement and be willing to answer questions from a concerned public.”

GetUp! also directly addressed several of the claims Roxon made in her video, relating separately to the Attorney-General’s view that the proposed data retention and surveillance package would not see the content of communications such as email and telephone calls stored – only the metadata associated with such communications, such as the time sent and the sender and recipient – and also Roxon’s view that the proposal contained no avenue for law enforcement authorities to demand passwords be divulged.

“The Discussion Paper is by no means clear on the issue of whether or not the Government is proposing to store the content of communications,” GetUp! stated. “The Government has stated that it had no intent to store this, and we have no reason not to believe that. However there are direct references to the storage of the content of communications in the paper, including one on page 28 which states the following: ‘Access to communications content and data plays an important role in protecting the community against threats to security and serious criminal activity.’”

In addition, GetUp! wrote, in a practical sense, the data retention and surveillance proposal did actually contain provision for passwords to be handed over, as it proposes making it a criminal offence not to decrypt data for law enforcement authorities on demand.

“There is no difference between forcing people to decrypt their private live communications, and asking them to hand over their passwords,” GetUp! wrote. “The Government is using the technical and complex nature of these proposals to confuse and mislead ordinary Australians. Under this proposal, the Government could force Australians to hand over keys to unscramble their private encrypted communications which would allow them to see exactly what they are doing online. This could be whilst accessing sites like Facebook, Twitter or your Internet Banking. If you refuse to cooperate with this process, you could be thrown in gaol.”

In general, the package has attracted a significant degree of criticism from the wider community over the past few months since it was first mooted. Digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia has described the new powers as being akin to those applied in restrictive countries such as China and Iran, while the Greens have described the package as “a systematic erosion of privacy”.

In separate submissions to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry into the reforms, a number of major telecommunications companies including iiNet and Macquarie Telecom, as well as telco and ISP representative industry groups, have expressed sharp concern over aspects of the reform package, stating that “insufficient evidence” had been presented to justify them. And Victoria’s Acting Privacy Commissioner has labelled some of the included reforms as “being characteristic of a police state”.

The Institute of Public Affairs, a conservative and free market-focused think tank, wrote in its submission to the parliamentary inquiry on the matter that many of the proposals of the Government were “unnecessary and excessive. “The proposal … is onerous and represents a significant incursion on the civil liberties of all Australians,” wrote the IPA in its submission, arguing that the data retention policy should be “rejected outright”. And one Liberal backbencher, Steve Ciobo, has described the new proposal as being akin to “Gestapo” tactics.

In addition, yesterday The Australian newspaper reported that about a dozen Coalition MPs had bitterly complained about the data retention proposals in a passionate party room meeting, with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott being urged to directly pressure the Government on the issue.

It seems pretty clear that GetUp! is factually correct in its comments yesterday and that Roxon has not been as up-front on this issue as she could have been. As I wrote separately on Delimiter, while Roxon does not go so far as to state bald-faced inaccuracies in her YouTube video, in general, it is quite misleading – especially on the issues which GetUp! highlighted, such as the nature of the content which the data retention scheme would store, as well as criminalising the refusal to decrypt data.

If Roxon was truly interested in having an open and transparent public discussion with regards to this package of policies, the Attorney-General would be well-advised to take up the offer of lobbying organisations such as GetUp!. While it does have political leanings in certain directions, GetUp! is not a specifically partisan organisation – it doesn’t owe allegiance to either major sides of politics, or even the Greens. It is precisely this kind of independent activist organisation which Roxon needs to convince if the Attorney-General wants the Australian public to believe that her package of data retention and surveillance proposals is above board and not the sinister Orwellian population control scheme which so many people are making it out to be.

In addition, Roxon’s invitation to GetUp! to distribute her video to its members is, frankly speaking, offensive. The video only provides a very limited point of view — Roxon’s point of view — on the extremely wide-ranging package of data retention and surveillance proposals which the Government is currently putting forward, and doesn’t do anything to answer GetUp!’s concerns about them. Force-feeding GetUp!’s members such “spin” would indeed run contrary to its mission statement.

Image credit: Office of Nicola Roxon


  1. I’m pleased to see that Getup! appears to returning to some worthwhile and important issues.

    As an aside and slightly OT, what is this need Labor governments seem to have to continuously increase surveillance of the citizens? The Labor is, as you may recall, the Party that tried to install the “Australia Card” and has had partial success implenenting ‘net censorship.

    We need a bit of anarchy in our lives…

    • It seems more like this proposal came from soulless bureaucrats than actual Labor party members.

      Of course, they don’t want to admit that Roxon is just a puppet…

      • As an ex-public servant, I object to being called soulless. I am an accountant. Now were I a banker, or a politician…

        Always bear in mind that the public service can do no more than its political master of the day demands. There are some departments, such as Defence, which get away with a lot more than others, but if this was all about public servants and their desires then politicians would quite happily screw the proposal up and throw it away along with everything else that might benefit public servants.

        What’s really driving this is likely to be an international push against privacy. Blame the US for that one, and bear in mind that there is currently bipartisan support for this proposal.

          • I’m saying it didn’t come from bureaucrats. The proposal may have come from a “security” organisation, but is more likely being pushed by Australia’s “allies”. Especially given Britain is looking at something similar at the moment.

            And the fact that you didn’t say “all” is just stepping around the fact that you said “bureaucrats”. I know of several who I am reasonably confident are just as likely to possess souls as anyone in this world. Assuming one believes in souls, which one doesn’t.

    • I am not sure that this is a labor / coalition issue. Neither side is to be commended for their stance on liberty for Australians within our own country. Perhaps your observations are merely that labor tend to be less polished in the lies they tell. The continual erosion of civil liberties is very much about a public sector that has gone rouge and the politicians who are simply not up to the task of understanding the issues or countering the one more tax and we will all be rich, or the one more law and we can all be safe rhetoric that comes from our less than stellar public servants.

      As an example, a quote from the Herald Sun Aug 15 on full body scanners: Liberal senator David Fawcett said the need for scanners arose from an incident in 2009, when a terrorist evaded security to smuggle a bomb hidden in his underpants onto an aircraft travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit.

      Amsterdam airport had full body scanners – did they fail to detect the explosives? The guy, whose father (a Mid East banker) had tried to alert the US that he was a risk, was escorted through security and allowed to board the plane without a passport. When asked about the bulge in his pocket by cabin crew, he responded that it was a PDA – was this just a lithium battery fire? Who would really want to light their nether regions on fire for no useful explosive effect?

      Israeli airport security has already condemned the machines as being expensive and useless, notably for liquid explosives. There are videos on how to smuggle things through the machines by placing them on the side of your body.

      Based on a comment from a NZ customs person, the public service wants the machines for drug detection – passenger DNA damage and cancer risks be dammed. Of course it wouldnt be phrased that way when being represented to officials like the good Liberal senator David Fawcett. Similarly the need for internet surveillance and KGB like dossiers on people would not be phrased that way but as a means to keep us safe from bad people hiding under our beds. Sadly once the public service have the politician hooked they just need to reel them in knowing that truth, logic, common sense or the views of constituents no longer matter.

    • “I’m pleased to see that Getup! appears to returning to some worthwhile and important issues.”

      I’d argue that for the most part GetUp have been at the forefront of every important political issue in this country, but of course that comes down to personal opinion and politics. I’m just lucky that for the most part GetUp lobbies for all the things I care about.

      In this case they are certainly right on the money (but that’s no secret to anyone here :) ).

    • As an aside to this, what exactly was wrong with the Australia card that couldnt be fixed? The blunt reality is, we’re in a world where there is so much data on individuals that the Australia Card pretty much exists right now.

      You have a TFN, an ABN, and/or a medicate card and its identification. Or a drivers licence or photo card (varying by state), same thing. Identity isnt hard to establish, and once thats done there isnt much to stop the relevant authorities from getting the data they need.

      An Australia Card would at least make the whole process be accountable and consistent. It would achieve a common base of data, and data integrity, much the same way the FttH NBN establishes a common infrastructure to build on.

      20-something years ago Ray Martin ran a story on ACA where they showed there were something like 210 Govt run databases that could (and probably did) contain information on you. What do you think that number would be these days with the increase in digital products?

      Make no mistake, with the amount of information across Govt departments, an Australia Card exists today in all but name. Would be nice to at least have a card to show for it :)

    • Password?
      Oh id love to give it to you but i forgotten it sorry, it must been all those spliffs i had last night officer……

  2. Good luck getting “metadata” from me, between running my own ssl enabled mail server that prefers to connect to other ssl enabled mail servers (a large number are, how’s that!), using https options wherever available, and having my own server overseas to terminate vpns to…

    • +1, Shannon.

      However, we shouldn’t have to resort to that to hold our privacy secure. The issue here is the Common Good, and there is no Common Good in the Big Brother attitudes of recent governments.

    • Um call me stupid, but wouldn’t they just sieze your server? and “force” you to provide the password.


    • Yay loopholes. The problem of course is that once government has managed to rationalise surveillance, technological workarounds that exploit ineffective laws are no protection. Those loopholes will slowly close as the laws are “fixed” to align with the rationalised intent.

      Not to mention that using an overseas VPN is only an option as long as there remains countries that don’t have their own regulatory issues. This is becoming less and less true every month. No freaking way I’d use a US or UK VPN to protect me from snooping by the Australian government!

      The answer must be to fight these proposals every step of the way, to hold our representatives to representing our interests. Not to become complacent in our ability to out-fox them.

      • +1. Slowly digging a deeper hole for ourselves if we don’t fight reforms like these. We shouldn’t need to go to such extremes to just have some privacy.

      • “The answer must be to fight these proposals every step of the way”

        yep, and if this ridiculous proposal goes ahead I will be writing a very advanced application that will create alot of noise. The more people that use it the more effective it will be.

  3. Its funny how she posted a video and yet has disabled the comments on youtube.
    One sided arguments and “do as I say” does not work.

    The idea of keeping customers data for 2 years is totally unacceptable.

    • Disabled comments to me normally says the video is either for trolling or scamming purposes. I’ll have to add BS propaganda to my list.

      • You already said you have a category for scamming… this is phishing on a grand scale.

  4. Roxon complains that noone is listening to her message. She then blocks comments on you tube, and refuses an invitation to discuss the issue with GetUp!.

    Sorry, Roxon, but if you want others to listen to you then you have to be willing to listen to them. Otherwise you risk being labelled a hypocrite.

    • Scrolled down to say exactly this, although you said it more eloquently than I was going to

  5. I too find the shift towards totalitarism in European and English speaking countries extremely worrying. Most of the putative “cybercrime” legislation has originated from the left, but the right are generally doing very little to oppose them and protect the freedom on their constituents. The cornerstone of conservatism is individual liberties, and anyone who says otherwise (like families values/ protect the children lobbists) are not conservatives but collectivists. The internet was supposed to aid the dissemination of knowledge and to bring people together with similar interests, but now the bureaucracy and wealthy corporations will end up regulating it.

    • Agreed. IT’s getting so bad that this “Howard Hater” is almost persuaded to to join the loonies on the Right up there in Queensland ;)

Comments are closed.