This week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott used recent terrorist threats as the backdrop of a dire warning to Australians that for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more
restrictions on some, so that there can be more protection for others.
This pronouncement came as two of a series of three bills effecting that erosion of freedoms made their way through Australia's Federal Parliament. These were the second reading of a National Security Amendment Bill which grants new surveillance
powers to Australia's spy agency, ASIO, and the first reading of a Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill that outlaws speech seen as advocating terrorism . A third bill on mandatory data retention is expected to
be be introduced by the end of the year.
Whilst all three bills in this suite raise separate concerns, the most immediate concern--because the bill in question could be passed this week --is the National Security Amendment Bill. Introduced into Parliament on 16 July, it endured robust
criticism during public hearings last month that led into an advisory report released last week. Nevertheless the bill was introduced into the Senate this Tuesday with the provisions of most concern still intact.
In simple terms, the bill allows law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to access data from a computer--so far, so good. But it redefines a computer to mean not only one or more computers but also one or more computer
networks . Since the Internet itself is nothing but a large network of computer networks, it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that the bill may stealthily allow the spy agency to surveil the entire Internet with a single warrant .
Apart from allowing the surveillance of entire computer networks, the bill also allows the addition, deletion or alteration of data stored on a computer, provided only that this would not materially interfere with, interrupt or obstruct
a communication in transit or the lawful use by other persons of a computer unless ... necessary to do one or more of the things specified in the warrant . Given the broad definition of computer , this provision is broad enough to
authorize website blocking or manipulation, and even the insertion of malware into networks targeted by the warrant.
Capping all this off, the bill also imposes a sentence of up to ten years imprisonment upon a person who discloses information ... [that] relates to a special intelligence operation . Although obviously intended to throw the hammer at
whistleblowers, the provision would apply equally to journalists. Such a provision could make it impossible for Australians to learn about the activities of their own government that infringe international human rights laws.
All in all, this sweeping bill would hardly be out of place in the NSA's pantheon alongside the USA PATRIOT Act. But unlike the United States, Australia does not have a written Bill of Rights in its Constitution, making its freedom-abridging laws
even harder to challenge in court.
Nevertheless Australia is a signatory to all major regional and global human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides that No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful
interference with his privacy , and that Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression . Australia, like all other nations of the world, is also addressed by the Necessary and Proportionate Principles that provide more
detailed guidance on how to apply international human rights standards in the context of communication surveillance.
It is far from clear that a proper balance can be struck by rushing this draconian bill through Parliament at a time when elevated fear of terrorism may lead to important civil liberties safeguards being forgotten or deliberately overruled.
Australians should call on their government, before it is too late, to withdraw this bill for further consideration. If not, this may mark the week in history when it became easier for the Australian government to surveil and manipulate the
Internet at will.
The Australian government seem to think that video games are only for kids but hate both of those terms. They denied even the existence of adults who played games for years, until the R18+ rating was introduced in 2013.
FOUND is a unique and supremely disturbing coming-of-age story of a boy whose big brother is a serial-killer.
Growing up is tough for Marty. His parents don't understand him and he is bullied at school. He has only his big brother to look up to...that is until he discovers his brother's chilling secret and a severed head in a sports bag at home.
FOUND unravels a gripping and gruesome story that captures what it's like to grow up in the time of VHS tapes and video nasties, as the American dream and everyday suburbia descends into a home-grown hell that will leave even the most hardened
horror fan shocked by its disturbing finale.
It's a sad day for Australian Duff Beer lovers - the popular drink is being pulled from our shelves.
Springfield's favourite beverage made it's way to Australia back in May but it's now been found to be in breach of the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code. The drinks censor said:
The association of The Simpsons with the product name and packaging is so strongly entrenched in Australian popular culture that the name and packaging will draw the attention of under 18 year olds. Measures to market the product without
references to The Simpsons characters or images cannot be effective to overcome the strong and evident appeal of the product material to underage persons.
Through its creation and subsequent promotion in The Simpsons, there is no doubt that Duff Beer is going to be attractive to children and young people.
The PC version of first-person cooperative zombie survival game Left 4 Dead 2 has finally been reclassified in Australia with an R18+ rating.
Left 4 Dead 2 was banned when it was first submitted in 2009, games company Valve appealed the decision to no avail before submitted a cut version for classification. Eventually the censorship board gave this an MA15+ rating. Unfortunately
for Australian gamers, this meant that they had to play a version of the game that was missing limb dismemberment, decapitation, and post-mortem damage.
With this new rating all of the censored content will be restored into the game.
Doug Lombard of Valve added that:
We are making plans to deliver that version to those who have already purchased the game. We will announce more details on that soon.
Australia's parliament has just passed a bill to allow the government the option to allow the use of classification tools for the classification of specified categories of media, particularly computer games.
The target of the legislation is the vast amount of apps and small games available online. Current law suggests these require to be censored by the Classification Board. However in reality this is totally uneconomic and unfeasible. The plan is to
allow users to classify the apps using government approved classification tools, presumably taking the form of a questionnaire for the games makers.
Australia's Advertising Standards Board (ASB) has dismissed a complaint against an outdoor ad for controversial Ubisoft video game Watch Dogs which claimed it was intimidating and normalised guns.
The poster depicted the game's character Aiden Pierce standing in the street of Chicago wearing mask and holding a mobile phone in one hand and a gun in the other.
The complaint to the ASB said the ad was displayed on a bus shelter outside a high school, adding it prompted their own children to ask about guns:
Why is an R rated game advertised in bus shelters, particularly around schools? I can monitor and restrict where my children go in a store, what advertising they see on TV or what magazines they read, but public space advertising like this
should always be suitable for all audiences that see it.
In its ruling, the board noted that while the man is pointing a gun he does not look menacing and there is a clear association being made with the television series being promoted (sic) .
It was the board's view that most members of the community would be unlikely to interpret the image as a real life situation and while it was a billboard and could potentially be seen by children, the board considered that the image
does not portray explicit violence and was relevant to the advertised product.
The board ruled that the image is not so strong as to be inappropriate for general viewing , dismissing the complaint.
The Australian federal government has founded a committee to inquire into law enforcement's use of the Telecommunications Act. The inquiry will specifically look into the Australian Securities and and Investments Commission (ASIC) alongside the
Australian Federal Police (AFS). The groups had initiated website blocking that was revealed in 2013 after a clumsy implementation blocked 250,000 other websites in the process.
Australian tech news site IT News first suggested federal agencies may be taking advantage of Section 313 after a third unnamed agency was found making similar website blocking demands. The federal government refers to the third organization only
as a national security agency and has repeatedly declined to disclose any further information regarding the identity or motives behind its behavior.
Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam issued a public statement on his website accusing the government of a secret Internet filter, referring to an unpopular government proposal earlier that year to establish a mandatory Internet filter.
Ludlam asserted that ASIC and AFP activities amounted to a filter by stealth whereby law enforcement agencies disrupted access to online content without transparency or public statements of explanation.
After more than a year of public statements from corporations and politicians, the federal government is opening a parliamentary committee to undertake an inquiry into ASIC and AFP behavior.
The investigation will address whether these agencies' uses of Section 313 have been appropriate or abusive. The current law does not explicitly require transparency, but the inquiry will review whether legal adjustments are necessary, with the
committee calling it an important public policy question. Other questions will include the authority of who can use Section 313 to block websites, circumstances in which it is appropriate, and accountability procedures.
A TV advert for the 2014 Sydney Film Festival offended an easily offended viewer. The advert featured a series of short film clips is shown with a fake animated audience reacting to the clips. The complainant wrote:
Near the end of the advertisement, they show two horses having sex with a man on top of one of the horses and a bus going by with a whole heap of people showing their bums and pressing them to the windows of the bus. This advertisement should
not have been on at this hour because of those two clips. I often babysit my little cousins and they like the show Who's Line Is It Anyway and if that add had come on while they were watching it, there would be a lot of questions and it
is just simply not appropriate. If the ad had come on later at night (say 10:00 pm onwards) it would not be as much of a problem.
Sydney Film Festival organisers responded:
There are two short clips approximately 24 seconds into the commercial that are the subject of this complaint, each less than one second long: 1 - the first is of horse mounting another horse that is being ridden by a man 2 - the second is of a
group of men pressing their buttocks against a window of a bus as it drives past
The first clip is from the Icelandic feature film Of Horses and Men that is being played at Sydney Film Festival in June. The film was selected as the Icelandic entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. It has
won 16 awards at major international film festivals from Tokyo to Tallin. There is no genitalia visible in the clip, it is very brief in duration, and is less graphic than something you would see in most nature documentaries.
The second clip is from the Italian feature Film The Referee that is also being played at Sydney Film Festival in June. The brief clip is of a group of adult male soccer players letting off steam on the bus home from a match. It is not
sexual or sexualised in any way, shape or form, and it comes across as mere exuberant male horseplay.
Australia's Advertising Standards Board turned down the complaints:
The Board considered whether the advertisement was in breach of Section 2.4 of the Code:
Advertising or Marketing Communications shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience .
The Board noted that the scene showing the horses having sex was very fleeting. The Board noted that two horses having sex is a scenario that would likely be viewed in a documentary. The Board agreed that it was unusual to include a man still on
the back of a horse while the horse was engaged in a sexual encounter however based on the advertiser's response that the scene was taken from a film, the Board considered that it was not inappropriate in the context of a brief scene in a PG
The Board noted the scene with the bottoms against the bus windows and considered that this is not behaviour that would be encouraged or condoned by the Board. The Board considered however, that the type of behaviour shown would likely be
behaviour conducted by a sporting team or similar and that the use of this scene from a film, in the context of a brief scene in a PG rated advertisement was not inappropriate for the relevant audience.
Outdoor ads for escort company Mackenzies of Perth have fallen foul of Australia's advert censor over the positioning of a feather boa between the woman's legs in one of the ads which the board ruled was exploitative and degrading .
The outdoor ads featured two different images of women in lingerie placed in upper windows of a building. In one of the images the woman is on all fours looking at the camera with her head titled to one side while the other is of a woman on her
back with her bottom raised and a feather boa between her legs.
A complaint to the Ad Standards Board (ASB) described the ads as pornography displayed so publicly on the major highway adding they could be seen by children and: I wholeheartedly object to the message of woman as sex objects.
In its decision the board noted that in order to be a breach of this section of the Code the image would need to use sexual appeal in a manner which is both exploitative and degrading and while some members of the community would
consider the use of a woman in lingerie to be exploitative it was the board's view that the image does have relevance to the product advertised and the pose of the first woman is not degrading.
However, in assessing the 2md image, the majority of the board considered the use of the feather boa between the woman's legs was clearly intended to draw the viewer's attention to this part of the woman's body in a manner which is both
exploitative and degrading . Consequently, the board ruled the ad did employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative and degrading , upholding the complaint.