Metadata mission creep? Who would have thought?

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The latest proposal from Victoria Police to monitor mobile phone use highlights the danger of mission creep under mandatory metadata retention laws:

The so-called textalysers… are able to analyse metadata to determine whether someone was using their mobile phone at a specific time – while driving, for example.

… The model proposed by New York authorities involves the analysis of a mobile device’s metadata after a road incident to determine whether the device had been used in the lead up to the event.
… Privacy laws are slowing progress of the proposed new legislation, although Israeli company Cellebrite, which produces the technology, claims that the textalyser system doesn’t have the ability to read the content of text messages and social media updates, but rather to determine whether the device was used at a certain time to send text messages.

However, Australia’s new metadata retention laws, which allow for the time and basic surface details of every message sent to be stored and made available to law enforcement agencies, could speed the technology’s introduction here.

While the government justified the introduction of metadata laws largely to fight terrorism, the inherent danger with gathering mountains of personal data (beyond privacy and data security issues) is that once it exists other entities will inevitably demand access (see that list here).

In fact, the IPA’s Simon Breheny predicted this as early as 2012, and the IPA’s Chris Berg warned about the likelihood of the compulsorily acquired metadata being used for purposes other than national security at the time of its introduction in 2014:

A lot of opponents of data retention have pointed out that this creates a very real risk of unauthorised access. It’s hard to keep data secure.

Yet just as concerning is authorised access. Once these databases have been created they will be one subpoena away from access in any and every private lawsuit.

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WHO are they kidding?

The headline from a recent statement by the World Health Organisation:

WHO Representative urges stronger tobacco control in Syria

That’s just embarrassing. As Christopher Snowdon notes at his blog:

If you ever doubted that the WHO has lost its way, here is the proof. It has been taken over by western idiots who obsess over micromanaging personal lifestyles and waging war on Big Tobacco, Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol’ while the developing world literally burns.

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Queen’s Birthday Honours 2016

One particular honour stood out for me in the Queen’s Birthday Honours:

The Honourable Roman FINKELSTEIN QC… For distinguished service to the judiciary and to the law, to legal education as an academic, to jurisprudence in the fields of commercial and competition law, and to professional organisations.

As Sinclair Davidson notes at the Catallaxy Files:

Ray Finkelstein – the man who tried to introduce media censorship in Australia at the behest of the previous Labor government – has been honoured with the Order of Australia by a Coalition government.

Simply astonishing.

On a brighter note though was the Knighthood awarded to conservative intellectual Roger Scruton in the UK’s Queen’s Birthday Honours. Among many other things, Roger Scruton delivered the keynote address at the IPA’s 2014 Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium, on liberty and democracy:

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The state has no business policing emotion

Brendan O’Neill in Spiked on how the state has no business policing emotion:

We should bristle and balk as much at the idea of ‘hate speech’ as we do at the idea of thoughtcrime…

… the category of hate speech is an extremely elastic tool for the repression of ideas. It has spread from curtailing ideas of racial superiority to suppressing expressions of religious hatred. Some Scandinavian countries want to outlaw misogynistic speech. On campuses there are clampdowns on transphobic speech. Anyone who says that a person with a penis is a man can now be branded a ‘hate speaker’ and find himself No Platformed. So even saying ‘men are men and women are women’ has been encapsulated in the ideological category of hate speech. Normal, widely held beliefs are casually rebranded ‘hatred’.

… Once you accept that some ideas are beyond the pale, once you cross that rubicon, then ultimately no idea is safe, because every idea can, at some level, be considered as offensive or experienced as hateful.

… Hatred is an emotion. It might not be the best emotion, but it’s an emotion nonetheless. And when we allow figures of authority to control emotion, to fine people for their emotions, to imprison people for their emotions, then we enter the realm of tyranny. It completes the state’s control of the individual. It expands state power from the public sphere of discussion into the psychic sphere of thought and feeling. It invites policing not only of political sentiment but of deep feeling. It is a profound assault on the freedom of the individual.It’s time to get serious about freedom of speech. It is unacceptable to repress the expression of ideas. It is unacceptable to repress the expression of hatred. ‘Hate speech is not free speech!’, people say. But it is. By its very definition, free speech must include hate speech. Speech must always be free, for two reasons: everyone must be free to express what they feel, and everyone else must have the right to decide for themselves whether those expressions are good or bad. When the EU, social-media corporations and others seek to make that decision for us, and squash ideas they think we will find shocking, they reduce us to the level of children. That is censorship’s greatest crime: it infantilises us. Let us now reassert our adulthood, our autonomy, and tell them: ‘Do not presume to censor anything on our behalf. We can think for ourselves.’

Read the whole article here.

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Even The Economist is acknowledging the global free speech problem

economist-front-page-smThis week’s Economist has an important expose on threats to free speech across the world.

The edition explores multiple dimensions of attacks on free speech: repression by governments, non-state actors enforcing censorship by assassination, the colliding of the American mind on campus, and the idea that certain people and groups have a right to not be offended.

Continue Reading →

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ACT exclusions zones target silent prayers

The Canberra Times reports the ACT’s restrictive “exclusion zones” passed last year are being zealously enforced:

Police have fined a pro-life supporter for the second time for breaching the protest-free zone around Canberra’s abortion clinic in Civic.

… the ACT government announced it had expanded the exclusion zone, to include Rudd Street, West Row, the alleyway of Odgers Lane, and surrounding roads, footpaths, gutters, outdoor areas, and underneath a “building’s facade”…

[Kerry Mellor] said that when he and other pro-life supporters went to the Moore Street clinic at 8am, there were already six police officers there.

The rest of his group dispersed, he said, but he remained in place outside PJ O’Reilly pub and was again fined $750.

“The moment that I produced my rosary and made a sign of the cross, they were on to me right away,” he said.

Mr Mellor says that he will challenge the laws, arguing that merely praying does not amount to prohibited behaviour under the Health Act 1993.

However, the courts may be of limited assistance. The laws –  put forward by Greens minister Shane Rattenbury – are a blatant attack on free speech. Section 85(c) of the Act prohibit “a protest, by any means” within an excluded zone determined by the minister.

Note: Professor Neil Foster of the University of Tasmania examines the constitutionality of exclusion zone laws at his blog, and is worth reading.

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“Freedom of speech is a good in and of itself. It has intrinsic value”

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Flemming Rose

From Danish journalist Flemming Rose’s remarks upon receiving the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty last week ($):

We easily get into trouble if our defense of free speech is premised on whether it contributes to truth-seeking or not, or whether it serves democracy or not, whether it is blasphemous or not, whether it offends or not, whether it undermines the war effort or not or, whether it is a threat to the common good or not—all these arguments are used every day to silence people all around the world.

They are all instrumental or utilitarian arguments. They claim that we need free speech to achieve something else that is more important than free speech. If our speech contradicts these goals of higher value, democracy, theocracy, communism, dignity understood as the right not to be offended, the historical truth, religious sensibilities, the need to eradicate hate and so on and so forth—then it is perfectly OK to criminalize that kind of speech.

This is the fundamental nature of the “I am in favor of free speech, but” position.

Thus we need a non-instrumental or non-utilitarian argument for free speech. Freedom of speech is a good in and of itself. It has intrinsic value.

Viewing free speech as an individual right rather than a mechanism to achieve a goal will lead to the conclusion that there are too many restraints on this liberty, while the “I am in favor of free speech, but” point of view always will be able to justify further limitations on speech.

The argument from autonomy means that human beings are morally self-governing individuals that are able to make up their mind about the speech of other people and decide how to respond. No politician or public opinion should have the power through criminalization and bans to hide opinions and speech from us, implying that we are not able to handle it in a reasonable and responsible way. It takes away our dignity because it is based on the assumption that we cannot be trusted to listen to certain kinds of speech. As Lincoln assumed in another context, free men should not be free to choose unfreedom for others. This is where the arguments from autonomy and dignity are grounded and where they come together in a sustainable and enduring defense for free speech.

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Nanny Bill’s new plan to save our children

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Nanny Bill Shorten has a new plan to save our children.

In the name of “tackling inequality“, Labor have announced a $40.9 million splurge on swimming lessons for primary school students.

As usual with paternalistic policies it won’t achieve very much.

Despite popular misconceptions, most drownings are not because people don’t know how to swim; rather, they involve intoxicated adults, pre-existing medical conditions, and people aged over 55 who misjudge their strength.

Swimming lessons for 6 to 12 year olds also don’t address the ultimate childhood water concern: toddlers falling into pools. This requires careful parental supervision, not a national government programme.

Nevertheless, ignoring Labor’s mid-election campaign populist scaremongering, we are actually doing quite well in this field.

The number of drownings in Australia has been trending downwards, from 1.64 per 100,000 in 2003, to 1.15 today. In 2014-15 there were zero drownings by those aged 10 to 17 – the age group most recently exposed to existing swimming lessons. According to the World Health Organisation, Australia’s drowning rate is amongst the lowest in the world.

This success is largely thanks to our culture of water safety encouraged by volunteer organisations such as Surf Life Saving Australia. Their Nippers programme has been so successful it is now being exported across the world, with the recently formed Surf Life Saving Israel using our techniques.

However, Nanny Bill doesn’t have any respect for successful civil society organisations, or parents who take responsibility for supervising and teaching their children how to swim. Instead, he wants to tell us how to raise our children.

What’s next? Can we trust parents to teach their kids how to eat and dress? Shall we put $50 million into a National Potty Training Initiative?

Labor’s paternalistic record is strong. The Rudd government sought to introduce a mandatory internet filter to block supposedly offensive content. This proposal, which would have massively slowed the internet and been easy to bypass, was justified in the name of protecting children.

Rather than relying on parents to monitor their children’s online activity, they looked to draconian measures that would have punished everyone.

Labor also don’t think parents can make appropriate dietary or healthcare decisions for their children.

In 2011, the Gillard government formed the Australian National Preventive Health Agency which investigated children’s exposure to advertising for unhealthy food and drinks, and was developing guidelines on healthy eating before it was abolished by the current government. Meanwhile, the Labor party’s national platform explicitly calls for “health care interventions in the lives of children”.

Labor seeks to replace the core responsibility of parents, to educate, guide and protect their children, with measures designed by Canberra bureaucrats.

A core element of living in a free society is the ability of parents to raise their own children without excessive interference. It is no coincidence that 20th century communists and fascists sought to meld children in their ideological image. Liberty ends when the state takes responsibility for raising children.

Yes, as Q&A questioner Duncan Storrar shows us, not every parent is perfect. There are certain extreme cases where children must be taken out of inappropriate circumstances. Nevertheless, these situations are the rare exception to the overall rule.

This election we must seriously ask ourselves what type of society we want to live in, and role of the government within that society.

Do we want paternalistic policies, like those proposed by Nanny Bill, or do we want to maintain the basic right to raise our own children?

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McDonald’s expose shows the system is broken – but not in the way you think

Last week’s McDonald’s expose in The Age neatly demonstrates the extent to which Australia’s workplace relations system has been compromised by vested interests

But the problems at the heart of the system may not be the ones that first occur to many readers.

Firstly, it is not actually clear that McDonald’s has done anything wrong. According to the Fair Work Commission website, the minimum wage for 16 year olds in Australia is $8.17 per hour, cascading upwards each year with age until a worker turns 21, when the adult minimum wage of $17.29 per hour applies.

According to the articles, most employees had a base rate of pay of $20 per hour. In America, where the adult minimum wage is US$7.25 per hour, or Germany where the minimum wage is 8.5 Euros per hour, this would not be considered a bad deal.

It is also almost triple the hourly rate of $6.94 that unemployed Australians have to live on when receiving the Newstart Allowance.

Given that the employer is happy, the union is happy, the Fair Work Commission is happy and over 95 per cent of employees are reportedly happy, a legitimate question should be asked as to whose business it is to intervene?

Continue Reading →

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