Civil liberties

Does Grand Theft Auto really cause grand theft auto?

If you – as we did – responded to NSW Hospitality Minister George Souris’ claim last fortnight that small bars were the cause of Sydney’s violent crime with a bemused headscratch, fear not! This week NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione goes after a far more familiar target – violent video games.

The NSW government and police have tried to pin Sydney’s crime problems on so many sources that the whole exercise is starting to resemble an episode of Today Tonight. I’ve always imagined there’s a script:

There is currently an outcry over [social problem]. This week we should blame it on: A.)Teenage binge drinking B.) “Designer drugs” C.) Young women in short skirts D.) Lack of respect taught in schools E.) The internet. Please limit yourself to one potential cause per week.

And yet, unfortunately for Scipione, the link between violent video games and violent crime is about as clear as the link between small bars and violence: not very. The economist Eric Crampton points to a paper that shows “while violent games get violent people excited about violence, they also reduce crime … by keeping violent people in their houses playing violent video games where they’d otherwise be going out to do violent things.” So much for that explanation then.

I suspect most people would be uncomfortable with the idea that the NSW police commissioner thinks we’re all one game of Grand Theft Auto IV away from mass knife crime. Endlessly pontificating on possible causes of violence isn’t what the public expects of its police force. What the public expects the police to do is actually pretty basic: effective and efficient policing.

Or maybe next week Scipione can try blaming shonky plumbers.

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Human rights lawyer vs freedom of association

There has been a call this week for Queensland to strengthen its anti-discrimination laws.

The attack on the current regime has come after a tattooed man was refused entry to a Gold Coast nightclub.

The man says a number of clubs have refused him entry due to a ‘no visible tattoos’ policy.

Human rights lawyer Ron Behlau, of Nyst Lawyers, said these polices were “inherently discriminatory” and called for an overhaul.

But calls such as these are in direct opposition to the right of individuals to freely associate with a community of people who share their values and preferences.

It should be the right of any private business owner to decide for themselves who their customers will be. No individual should have the right to use the power of the state to force their patronage on any business.

To do anything else is an affront to freedom of association.

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Private data no more

News has broken this morning that an alleged Canadian spy sold classified Australian intelligence documents to Russian agents.

The scale of the illegal disclosure is vast. Comparisons have been made to the huge numbers of military documents US Army Private Bradley Manning allegedly handed over to WikiLeaks.

This obviously raises serious concerns about the Australian government’s ability to keep important data secure.

And it’s not the first time the government has had major issues with confidential information.

A 2006 study into Centrelink found 800 cases of illegal snooping by 100 staff.

Over the three year period from 2008-2010 1000 Medicare employees were investigated for spying on personal information.

And there are probably many cases of government misuse and mismanagement of private information that are simply never reported.

But even in the face of examples like these the Attorney General’s department still thinks it’s a good idea to make ISPs effective wards of the state: forcing them to log every site we visit, every Facebook and Twitter message we send and receive.

There are already a number of reasons why we should be suspicious of the government’s proposed data retention regime. The numerous cases of bureaucrats mishandling our private data should make us even more sceptical of these draconian internet surveillance proposals.

We simply can’t trust them with our private data.

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Beer barns were the problem. Now, apparently, they’re the solution

Sydney’s problem with violence could be attributed to any number of causes – lack of late night transport, ineffective or inefficient policing, small streets over-filled with touchy drunks, or a cultural approach to alcohol that dictates that to have fun, you need to get wasted. With this wealth of potential reasons for violence, NSW Hospitality Minister George Souris’ preferred target, small bars, seem an odd choice on which to pin the blame.

Souris, as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, says that small bars are associated with “a lower level of surveillance, a lower level of supervision, a lower level of compliance.” He went on to say that “for some reason the bigger venues that also have gambling associated with them are better policed, better supervised than those smaller venues”.

And yet, the proponents of the small bar policy made precisely the opposite claim in 2007, when NSW undertook liquor licensing reform. Continue Reading →

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But what if Howard was introducing these internet surveillance laws?

In today’s Australian Financial Review, John Roskam urges Labor MPs to ask themselves the obvious question:

Labor MPs should ask themselves something … along the lines of: “How would I feel if a conservative government did some of the things the Gillard government now wants to do?” …

The press censorship the Gillard government is contemplating is bad, but from the perspective of Labor backbenchers, the motives for it might be understandable. They believe it’s their chance to get back at a media that they believe has been biased and unfair. But no such excuse is available when it comes to what the government wants to do about internet surveillance.

Read the whole thing here.

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Gillard government internet surveillance laws unprecedented threat to civil liberties

“The Gillard Government’s proposed internet surveillance laws will fundamentally erode civil liberties and should be rejected outright,” said Simon Breheny, director of the Rule of Law Project at the free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Last week the Commonwealth Attorney General’s department released a discussion paper Equipping Australia Against Emerging and Evolving Threats proposing an extraordinary range of government powers over telecommunications and internet.

The proposals include granting power to 16 state and federal security agencies to monitor citizens’ private communications, including Facebook and Twitter accounts. It also proposes giving the Attorney General the power to unilaterally vary warrants and imposes the “data retention” regime which would require internet service providers to record and store all their users’ activity for two years.

“There are huge concerns that the government is considering allowing the Attorney General to arbitrarily vary a warrant without requiring a court order. Making it a crime to refuse to hand over login details to security agencies is also in direct opposition to the right to silence.

“This is completely unacceptable.

“These proposals are a spectacular power grab by the Attorney General’s Department. They are incredibly excessive and completely unjustified. There is no case for this unprecedented intrusion by the government into the lives of citizens and we cannot trust the government with our private data.”

“This is a government that has undermined the authority of parliament and is hostile to freedom of speech. It now appears to have citizens’ private communications on the internet in its sights,” Mr Breheny said.

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Freedom of Association trampled by NSW consorting laws

My Drum column this week is on NSW’s revamped consorting laws and their long, disreputable history back to the razor gangs of the 1930s.

The first person was convicted under the amended laws last week. Yet he was not a bikie, but a 21-year-old man the NSW police admits has no link with motorcycle gangs.

It was the same in the 1930s. The police found consorting laws useful to clear the streets of prostitution, but not so useful in clamping down on razor crime. Consorting laws are good for smoothing the wheels of prosecution – if you think the goal of a legal system is to maximise prosecutions. But its ability to prevent or punish serious criminal activity is limited.

Freedom of association is too important to be casually thrown away. But it has been eroded by ill-conceived law and order legislation for some time. In a 2008 edition of the IPA Review, Greg Barns wrote about the problems with anti-bikie laws then being passed in South Australia. Unfortunately – as those, and similar laws have failed – the response of state governments has not been to rethink their justification, but to double down.

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Obama Beats Bush In Assault On Civil Rights

My Sunday Age and Sun-Herald column today discusses how the left have gone silent on Obama’s atrocious civil liberties record.

Obama has undermined more individual rights, and hoarded more presidential power, than Bush ever did. It’s not that he has simply failed to roll back Bush’s anti-terror excesses. Although that is true, as well. It’s that Obama has trumped them. More than 10 years after the September 11 attacks, the White House is still amassing extra security powers.

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