Category: Outside NetMed

Online Privacy

This is a speech that I wrote as part of a debate for one of my other subjects, International Human Rights & Law. It focuses on ideas of privacy on the internet, and the level of access to citizen’s online correspondences governments should have, and these are issues that we have already touched on in Networked Media.

Privacy is a sacred and basic human right, one that is inherently violated when governments access its citizen’s emails, texts and other forms of electronic media, supposedly in the interests of National Security.

Governments shouldn’t be granted this level of access because: it infringes on one of our crucial human rights, it has never shown to be actually effective in protecting national security, and those in government cannot necessarily be trusted with this sort of power.

As Benjamin Franklin said: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. This is exactly the situation faced by citizens who are having their online communications constantly monitored by governments: their essential liberty is being violated with the intentions of granting some sort of temporary safety. The individual’s right to this liberty of basic privacy is enshrined in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, which states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence”. This is something that is clearly violated by government’s accessing citizens private online correspondences.

In our set textbook, Geoffrey Robertson described the crucial importance of the right to privacy, saying that “privacy is a value which calls for protection because of the individual’s psychological need to preserve an intrusion-free zone of personality and family”. This right to privacy is included in all main human rights treaties, and allowing government’s to inherently access its citizens emails and private online correspondences obviously violates this basic right.

These issues have come to prominence this year after the NSA leaks from Edward Snowden, revealing that the agency keeps a record of emails, Facebook posts and instant messages, as well as massive amounts of raw Internet traffic. But if most of the people that are being monitored aren’t breaking laws, why should their basic right to privacy be violated? If they aren’t abusing any human rights, why should their own human rights be abused? Privacy is at the root of human expression, and its absence will restrict creative opinions, and diverse political expression. The government’s purpose is to be open and transparent, and these forms of underground, concealed spying on innocent civilians is in direct contradiction to this. Edward Snowden himself summed it up perfectly by saying “I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy, and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity”, but with the government’s increasing reliance on accessing its citizens private online communications, we are moving steadily closer to this reality.

Even if we put aside the human rights issues and fundamental violations that this form of surveillance involves, we see that it hasn’t even been proved to have been effective in upholding national security. Once it becomes common knowledge that communications online are being closely monitored, people will begin to act differently, resulting in real criminal behaviour moving to more underground areas. People will always find a way around this sort of surveillance, meaning that only law abiding people will be spied on. A famous quote by Cardinal Richelieu says: “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang them”. Well now governments have overwhelming wealths of information through these monitored online communications,and this will inevitably lead to innocent people being persecuted.

There is no solid, provable evidence that the government’s accessing of citizens emails and other online correspondences has directly led to protecting the national security. We haven’t seen proof that it has prevented a terrorist attack for example, but there are numerous occasions where this so called ‘right’ has been abused to target innocent individuals. Articles revealed under the Freedom Of Information Act state that a division of the Department Of Homeland Security produced daily briefings on the Occupy Wall Street Protests, which included passing on private information to third parties. This is a department that was founded in order to combat terrorism, violating citizens sovereign rights in order to prevent a peaceful protest. Another example is David Petraeus, the director of the CIA who was forced to resign after the FBI uncovered emails indicating he was having an affair with his biographer. Again, this was a government agency abusing their access to private emails in matters that were not endangering the national safety, and this event led many to ask that “when the CIA director cannot hide his activities online, what hope is there for the rest of us?”

Governments aren’t all-powerful omniscient forces that should and can be trusted with this huge level of information and control that is gained through this sort of data collection. This level of information is something is easily corrupted and can have significant consequences if it is manipulated. It is entirely subjective how ‘national security’ is defined, and for many governments this will involve controlling ‘enemies of the state’ and political dissidents, rather than true threats to security. We’ve seen time and time again that this rhetoric of there being a ‘right’ to violate individual’s privacy in order to protect national security is baseless, and has merely been used to mask the true intentions of monitoring civilians.

In many instances, government’s have used this power to protect their own interests against troublesome individuals or dissidents, rather than in the interests of national security. Although we may trust the current government with this power, once it becomes enshrined in law and turns into a common practice, it will be near-impossible to prevent it if it is hijacked by a different government in the future for authoritarian aims or the like. Justice William O. Douglas summarised this argument when he said that “taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen – a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a person’s life”.

In conclusion, we cannot allow governments the right to arbitrarily access all of its citizens emails, texts, and other forms of electronic media under the veil of ‘National Security’. Sacrificing this privacy would be to revoke one of our basic and innate human rights, and would lead to a restriction on creative thinking and divergent political opinions. This form of surveillance has also never been proved to actually be effective in maintaining national security, as the real criminals opt for more underground methods, while law abiding citizens may be targeted for their beliefs or merely by the company they keep.

Finally, allowing this sort of omniscient right to the government is may lead to significant consequences in the future, especially if manipulated by leaders with ulterior motives. Privacy is one of our most sacred and inherent human rights, one that’s importance can only truly be realised when it is lost, and we must protect it from this sort of government spying and monitoring. Because, as Billy Graham said, “Once you’ve lost your privacy, you realize you’ve lost an extremely valuable thing”.

Save The Palace

I wrote this thing a few months ago but I think it’s still a pretty relevant issue. It’s about the Palace Theatre, a great music venue in Melbourne that may be replaced by a hotel.

Melbourne is set to lose another iconic music venue, and it’s time to take another stand to save live music in this city.

News that The Palace Theatre may well be destroyed to make way for a hotel has been met with anger and indignation from music-lovers, and rightly so: The Palace Theatre is far too special and important to the Melbourne music scene to be lost.

It was recently announced that the Chinese property investment firm Jinshan Investments has applied to build Australia’s first ‘W Hotel’, a complex encompassing 40,000 square metres, hosting 205 hotel rooms and 145 apartments, estimated to cost around $180 million; because if there’s one thing that we need more of in the city, it’s a hotel.

These plans would include the complete demolition of The Palace Theatre, wiping the iconic, unique, and historic venue off the face of the planet. The Palace is a near-perfect place to watch live music, and losing it would leave a gaping whole in the Melbourne music scene that will have harmful long-term effects.

The current situation is a continuation of a worrying trend occurring across the country, with developers seemingly hell-bent on transforming our vibrant city into a culture-free, dull and life-less one, with the likes of the East Brunswick Club and, for a very short period of time, The Tote, closing down.

If this trend continues, Melbourne may well eventually lose the unique buildings that define it as a city, and merely be another city filled with sky-scraping hotels and luxurious, modern buildings.

Even viewed as a matter outside of live music, the proposed developments will be severely damaging to Melbourne being the self-proclaimed “cultural capital” of the country. To demolish a hundred year old theatre for a 100m tall luxury hotel would set a dangerous and damaging precedent that will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the artistic and musical status of the city.

According to the developers, the proposed hotel will “re-energize” the eastern end of the CBD, although it is as yet unclear how an expensive, high-class hotel which will likely attract only rich businessmen will achieve this better than a renowned and vibrant music venue that attracts thousands of music fans from across the state, and the country.

The building was first erected in 1860 under the name of The Douglas Theatre, but was destroyed by a fire in 1911. The following year, the theatre in its current form was built, originally acting as a cinema, before being transformed into a nightclub and music venue in 1987.

Viewed from the outside, The Palace is a beautiful, attention-grabbing theatre filled with character like no other in the city. From the inside, The Palace is perhaps the best venue in the state to watch live music. With three levels and sizable standing area, including balconies virtually on top of the stage, and enough bars to ensure there’s never a long wait, every single person inside the venue is able to have an impeccable view of the act.

With a capacity of just under 2,000 it is one of the few of this size in the city, and in the last few years, it has played host to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, Death Cab For Cutie, and Animal Collective, and serves an important role in facilitating tours for some of these mid-sized international bands, ones that are far too big to play the likes of The Corner Hotel, but cannot fill the expansive arenas such as Etihad Stadium, Rod Laver Arena, or Festival Hall.

The Palace is an iconic and historic venue, and should have a full Heritage Listing to prevent these types of attempted developments, but this is not the case, and now we must do something to save it. If the Palace Theatre can go, then no another venue in Melbourne is safe.

It’s been proved time and time again that music-loving people can and will take action in order to prevent these venues being destroyed. In 2010, following the forced closure of The Tote due to ridiculously harsh liquor licensing, an estimated 5,000 people rallied on the streets, leading to its eventual re-opening. The same year saw the Save Live Australian Music rally, which attracted between 10,000 and 20,000 people, according to the ABC.

It’s glaringly obvious that we are willing to take real action to save our music scene, and unfortunately this is becoming an increasingly necessary act to ensure the longterm stability of Melbourne’s live music scene.

Three years ago the music-lovers of Melbourne united to save The Tote, and the time has come to do so again. We cannot sit idly by and let these iconic music venues be destroyed one after the other, and the time has come to take a stand.

The Issue With Single-Issue Parties

The farcical micro-party preferencing system will undermine the ability and purpose of the Australian Senate, with an influx of irrelevant single-issue parties looking on course to win seats.

The Senate is granted wide-ranging power in the Australian political makeup, serving as a review and critique of the lower house, and possessing the means to block certain legislation, but for it to be effective, it requires a diverse range of voices. These voices need to be able to discuss the array of issues that it will inevitably encounter, not just one, but it’s looking increasingly likely that the Australian Sports Party, and the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts will each win a seat in the Senate, single-issue candidates with little background and even fewer policies.

Wayne Dropulich, a gridiron playing engineer, looks set to win a Senate seat in Western Australia for the Australian Sports Party. The party’s ideology is, unsurprisingly, focused on advocating sports, and little else. Their website reveals no insight into how they would act in the Senate, or any other beliefs or values on wider policies.

At least the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party include a quick byline on their role, saying it “will primarily be to review proposed legislation, which is passed in the lower house”, but apart from that textbook definition of the Senate’s basic role, and a few other broad statements on this, there’s very little else of substance.

These candidates are now looking increasingly likely to be holding an important chunk of power, and will be voting on issues ranging from the carbon tax, mining tax, and a possible intervention in Syria. It’s hard to imagine how these party’s will act as the reliable ‘checker’ of government legislation on these issues, when they are so squarely focused on their own specific areas.

It may unfortunately also lead to an increase in shady, underground deals and alliances, with these parties accepting bills in order to further their own specific interests. We just have no way to tell how they will act on these prevalent issues in the national interest.

These single-issue parties are a blight on the Senate, wasting the crucial opportunity for diverse, minor parties holding some semblance of power in Australian politics, parties that need to effectively and transparently evaluate legislation on a wide-range of topics.

But who voted for these highly specific minor parties? Well, by the looks of the ABC and AEC’s figures, not many people actually did. The rise of these single-issue parties is due in part to the excessive amount of candidates on the Senate ballot, and the accompanying murky underworld of micro-party preferencing.

The Australian Sports Party will win a seat with only 0.22% of the primary, first-preference vote in Western Australia, while the Labor member received 12% and will not. Can we really call a victory with 0.22% of the vote an accurate representation of the state’s wishes? And is it truly democratic if the victory came down to back-room deals and preferences that handed others votes to the Party?
A similar situation has been seen in Victoria, with the Motoring Enthusiasts likely to receive a seat while only receiving 0.52% of the initial allocation, well behind the likes of The Sex Party, Family First, The Wikileaks Party, and the Palmer United Party.

In NSW, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm’s name appeared first on the expansive ballot, and this, along with his party’s similar name to the LNP, may result in the very much pro-gun, former veterinarian gaining a seat in the Senate. Leyonhjelm has done nothing to shy away from the reasons of his voting results, duping himself the “senator for the donkeys”.

This process of micro-party preferencing is verging on non-sensical. It’s counter-intuitive and doesn’t properly represent the votes of the Australian people. The Senate’s purpose is to amend, negotiate and balance bills and legislation, and it’s hard to imagine how this will be achieved by parties whose major, and seemingly sole, focus is on cars and sports, hardly the most commonly discussed issues in Parliament.

It’s time to fix this system of voting so that our elected Senators, who are imbued with such important powers and responsibilities, accurately reflect the overall vote and allow the Senate to function as the check on the House Of Representatives’ power as it is intended to be.

Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos

“Take a look at your beloved candidates. They’re nothing but hideous space reptiles.”

Although it’s a Homer Simpson quote, it could just as easily be related to the Australian election.

It’s from the classic Halloween episode where the aliens, Kang and Kudos, kidnap two politicians and take on their appearance. Nobody really notices anything too different or suspects anything, and even when they are revealed, the public are powerless to stop one of them being elected.

Despite this being an excellent satire of the American situation, it can also just as brilliantly relate to our current situation in Australian politics. I’m not saying someone should try to yank our two leader’s heads to see if a giant alien is hiding underneath, but I’m also not saying that this is a ridiculous idea.

There are a number of remarkable similarities between the alien’s actions and those of Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd in the last couple of weeks. They make a series of bizarre, incomprehensible public statements, and a number of hilarious/depressing gaffes (suppository, anyone?), and although the two probably won’t be caught holding hands in public any time soon, you just never know at the moment.

Kodos so eloquently sums up the modern-day election campaign by saying: “All they want to hear are bland pleasantries embellished by an occasional saxophone solo or infant kiss”. Replace saxophone solo with a visit to a factory or school, and infant kiss, with awkward kiss to the back of a poor lady’s head, and you’ve got a precisely accurate summation of the Australian election.

In a campaign speech, one of the aliens gives the inspiring proclamation of “We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling towards freedom”. This could easily sub in for either leader’s election speeches, with both focusing bemusingly on ‘A New Way’, while constantly emphasising past mistakes and returning to old policies.

The alien claims that the “politics of failure have failed…we need to make them work again”, echoing the sentiments of Rudd’s announcement against negativity a few weeks again, while continuing to provide a negative campaign.

Homer eventually reveals the candidates for what they are, stating that they are “phonies” and “alien replicons from beyond the moon”, and let’s be honest, who hasn’t, at some point in time, wondered whether Rudd or Abbott is in fact an alien imposter from an outside universe?

Kang accurately surmises that the people are unable to do anything about it because “it’s a two-party system; you have to vote for one us”, a depressingly apt way to also sum up the Australian system. After being questioned about a third-party, the aliens implore them to “go ahead, throw away your vote”, a statement even more relevant to our situation following the Coalition’s preferencing which is seemingly an attempt to ‘Rains Of Castamere’ the Greens out of Parliament (if you haven’t seen Game Of Thrones yet don’t Google that one).

There are no real, significant differences between our two major parties, nothing big enough to allow debate to be primarily focused on policy. Because of this, our election campaigns have become a battleground of personality and rhetoric, of media appearances and sham ‘debates’.

The episode concludes with Kang being elected and immediately enslaving the population, and Homer says “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos”, a sentiment that many of us may be employing following the upcoming election.

The Fake Debate

What we witnessed last night was not a debate.

It would have been more apt to name it ‘two politicians giving separate press conferences while standing close to each other’, but that doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

A worthwhile debate requires interaction and arguments between the two leaders, but we didn’t get any of that. What we got was a dull, bleak charade full of rhetoric with no real substance.

On the few occasions when Rudd or Abbot interrupted the other, or attempted to counter their points, they were quickly shot down, and then continued to rehash the same tired rhetoric that’s been prevalent across the first week of what will be a very long campaign.

The Australian people deserve better than this to accurately make up their mind and participate in the democratic system, and if there are any more of these ‘debates’ in a similar vein, it will be a wasted and tiresome display.

Both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott barely veered from their own very set scripts, and often strayed far away from the question, choosing instead to address their opponents perceived failings.

Nothing was achieved in this ‘debate’ that couldn’t have equally been produced from two separate press conferences, or just a simple press release. We didn’t see either leader assert themselves over the other, or venture off script to rebut the others point.

But the fact that the debate failed at its very basic level to provide a thought-provoking discussion between our two prospective prime ministers is not either politicians fault, or the moderator. It’s the basic rules that accompany it that prevented any real debate to take place. With very restricted time limits on each leader, little to no chance for rebuttal, and strict rules against interrupting or directly addressing the opponent, there was never going to be any productive discussion.

It’s almost impossible to imagine that this ‘debate’ would have even slightly swayed any undecided voters, and isn’t that the exact point of these events taking place? We didn’t discover any real strengths or weaknesses from either leader, and the status-quo was religiously upheld by both.

The only moment that could possibly inspire swing voters was Rudd’s announcement of a conscious vote on same-sex marriage within 100 days of his possible re-election, but even this was announced before the ‘debate’, and could have easily just been put out in a press release.

The next ‘debate’ must give our leaders a chance to actually have a real, interactive discussion between each other, to give the voters a real insight to how the handle the pressure of a live, open debate, and how they can actually communicate their policies without the aid of ingrained slogans and obviously prepared answers to predictable questions.

The forthcoming debates must be reconsidered in this light, or they might as well be replaced by simultaneous media releases from each leader, and we deserve much more than that.

Wine Glasses, Gaffes, And Scaring Children: Election Week #1

The first week of the election buildup featured pretty much exactly what you’d expect: mistakes, petty insults, and little substance.

In a week where Australian politics got its very own versions of much maligned American politicians Sarah Palin and Anthony Weiner, it was a farcical and slightly comical beginning to what will be a very long election.

When the weeks starts with the revelation that a chairman of an Ethics (yes, ethics) Committee sent his mistress pictures of “his penis plonked in a glass of red wine”, it’s probably going to be a bad week. Yep, Coalition MP Peter Dowling’s attempts to one-up Weiner were revealed, and he promptly stepped aside, but we’ll have to live with that mental image for the rest of our lives.

Carrying on with the ‘let’s embarrass Australia internationally’ theme, Jaymes Diaz’s catastrophic interview went viral and made the headlines in the US. LNP’s Diaz claimed that the party has a “six-point plan” to ‘stop the boats’, but after being asked a total of eight times to reveal these, he could not. Diaz stumbled through the painfully cringeworthy interview before finally being saved by a disapproving minder, and slowly backing away from the interviewer, looking dazed and lost.

This typified how the campaign so far has been solely focused on catchy slogans and the go-to line of ‘stop the boats’, without any real substance from either Party.

You’d think that a candidate being unable to detail any of his Party’s key policies would be the biggest gaffe of the week, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong.

Enter Stephanie Banister, the figure-head for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Banister showed a predictably awful lack of basic common knowledge in the interview with Channel Seven, which included the phrase “I don’t oppose Islam as a country”, reference to the Koran as “haram” and claims that the national disability insurance scheme was “working at the moment”. It doesn’t begin for another three years. In another embarrassment for the country, this interview also went viral, and has led to many accurate comparisons with the one and only Sarah Palin.

Not surprisingly, Banister is also facing criminal charges after allegedly placing anti-Muslim stickers on supermarket products, which is probably what got her into the One Nation Party in the first place. Mercifully, she has now resigned.

On the topic of actual policies, the week was rather sparse. The focus, as usual, was on economic issues, with each side announcing one big spending policy. Labor announced an extra $450 million for out of school care places, while the Coalition stated that it would cut company tax by 1.5%.

Meanwhile Kevin Rudd visited a lot of schools and Tony Abbott visited a lot of factories.

Will it get any better tomorrow? It’s debatable.