• christinemackenzie

Digital rights

This was the final session of the Internet Governance Forum held in Melbourne in September. I was particularly interested in this topic since IFLA has come out with the "net neutrality and zero rating" statement. I was also influenced by Mark Surman from the Mozilla Foundation who spoke at the IFLA congress and who said that the health of the Internet must become a mainstream issue in the same way that the environment has.

This session ended up being mainly about privacy. The comment was made early in the session that human rights is an issue in Australia let alone digital rights. There is a technology focus on the way governments and business deal with issues around digital rights and they are not looked at through a human rights lens. Now the TPP looks like it is dead in the water, but there was a lot of concern about data retention laws, with a huge impact on digital rights without any debate in parliament. One reason for this was suggested - that most politicians are technologically illiterate and it is very concerning that they are making decisions about issues such as website blocking that are very impactful without understanding the consequences.

Of course, the issue of privacy is not just in Australia and the Privacy Commissioner, David Watts, has been appointed as special rapporteur (an independent expert) to advise the UN on particular issues. The UN last revised the Right to privacy in 1988. The UN is considering how to define foundational issues such as how do you conceptualise privacy? David says it needs to be conceived as an enabling right. The threshold issue is big data and open data. There needs to be the right to be left alone, and for example there are no de-identification processes in Victoria. The way that government reacts to these issues was described as diabolical in Australia.

There is confusion around privacy and it is a universal right - the right to determine what happens with your information. There is the illusion of privacy and consent when people tick agreements but practically there is no choice, you have to accept the terms and conditions or not use the service. I don't think too many people actually read the agreements and they are constantly changing. People cheerfully and often unwittingly are handing over all sorts of information about themselves that is sold and exchanged. It is a spurious argument to say that "I have nothing to hide" as the impact can be much more than people realise now. This data is extremely valuable to Facebook and Google, and there no option to have a paid Facebook and keep your own data private. That isn't the business model.

The German privacy law was given as a good example; they use a model of data austerity and government and business can only hold data if they actually need it and can only keep it as long as they need it for the particular purpose it was gathered for.

The session ended with a call for organisational and systematic change and the need to professionalise advocacy for privacy in Australia.

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