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  1. Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October Key points: Prime Minister says it has been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines to Australia He has announced an additional $1.1b for the nation's COVID-19 response The government has set up a website in the hope of stopping misinformation about the vaccine Nearly 160,000 people have now had a COVID-19 vaccination, including the Prime Minister who received his second Pfizer dose on Sunday. However, the figure is well below what the federal government had hoped to achieve, with a target of inoculating 4 million people initially set for early April. Scott Morrison has blamed international supply issues but is hopeful vaccination rates will ramp up in the coming weeks. "The critical factor in controlling the pace of the vaccination program is the supply and production of vaccines — that is the critical swing factor," he said "In these early phases, that has obviously been impacted by the fact that we had anticipated to have some 3.8 million vaccines imported from overseas. That's been 700,000." Australia's vaccination figures as of March 12.(Supplied: Australian Government) Italy recently blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines destined for Australia and Mr Morrison said it had been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines here, given ongoing international issues. Look back on all the coronavirus news from Sunday in our blog. Biotech company CSL has been tasked with manufacturing more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia to ensure the rollout is less reliant on imports. Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said discussions were underway with CSL to determine if it could "churn out" more than 1 million doses a week as currently planned. "We have lots of people who want to give more vaccines … the critical limitation at the moment is simply vaccine supply," he said. Professor Murphy also said the Health Department expected the Novavax vaccine to be made available later this year, but the department was "not counting on that in our vaccination strategy". Vaccination time line could change Professor Murphy said he was "pretty confident" most Australians would get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by October and a small proportion would have to get their second dose next year. However, he said if the supply of the vaccine ramped up, the end date could be brought forward. Questions about the time line of the rollout were raised on Thursday when a parliamentary hearing grilled Health Department staff about whether the targets could be met. The Prime Minister said he remained hopeful that most Australians could have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination by October but he insisted that could change. "Where we can boost supply, then it is potentially possible for us to bring forward, I think, the achievement of the first dose goal," he said. "Supply disruptions, unforeseen events, issues with logistics, major breakouts in our region — anything like this can, of course, impact on what we're talking about today. That is the nature of COVID-19. It writes its own rules." Extra money for COVID-19 support Speaking at a Sydney medical centre, Mr Morrison also announced an additional $1.1billion in funding for the nation's COVID-19 response. It includes extending until the end of June telehealth services and care, which were due to end in just a few weeks. The extra funding will also help cover the costs of testing and treating people with COVID-19, as well as providing financial assistance for electronic prescription services and delivering medication through the Home Medicine Services. The demand for mental health support is still high and some of the cash will be handed to Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service. Stopping the spread of misinformation In an attempt to ensure most Australians are on board with getting the jab, the Federal Government has set up a website to try to stop the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. There are more than a dozen questions listed on the Is it true website such as, "Do COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?". However, there are no questions about whether it is safe for pregnant women to get the jab, which has been a regular topic of conversation. Additional questions will be continually added to the website. Mr Morrison said the website would give some reassurance to Australians about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. "Don't go to Dr Google, don't go to Dr Facebook where everyone has an opinion but no-one has responsibility," he said. Mr Morrison also pointed to concerns that people were looking at information that was not relevant to the situation in Australia. "Go to the Australian information because there are different vaccination programs in different countries [and] they are in different pandemic situations than Australia," he said. Source: Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October
  2. Facebook to reverse Australia news ban after lawmakers alter bill Australian Facebook users' News Feeds can once again have actual news in them. Enlarge / Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters as seen in 2017. Jason Doiy | Getty Images Facebook has apparently emerged victorious from its standoff with the entire nation of Australia, as lawmakers in that country have agreed to amend a proposed law that would have required Facebook to pay publishers for news content linked on its platform. The social networking giant last week banned all news posts both in and from Australia to protest a bill under discussion in Parliament. Users inside Australia became unable to share news links of any kind from any source, and users outside Australia became unable to share links from Australian media. Facebook at the time argued that the proposed law "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content." Facebook's ban turned out to be an extremely blunt instrument, blocking sharing not only of news inside Australia but also of public communications from the government, pages for nonprofit organizations and charities, and other Australian organizations that tried to share links to off-Facebook sites. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison blasted Facebook over the ban, saying last week, "We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code." The government, however, appears to have blinked first, and the Morrison administration is now offering several amendments to the bill, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said this week. What’s changing? As originally drafted, the bill would require "digital platform corporations" to negotiate in good faith with news outlets ("registered news business corporations") to link to their content. If the outlets and the platforms can't reach a deal on their own, they would immediately have to take the dispute into baseball-style arbitration, where a neutral third-party arbitrator looks at both offers on the table and decides which is the better one. The definition of "digital platform corporations" in the bill is crafted such that it would at first apply to only two companies—Google and Facebook, both of which vehemently oppose the proposed law. The new amendments tweak some provisions of the bills to give platforms a little more breathing room—and basically give both firms a way to buy their way out of the regulation. Google in January also threatened to leave Australia entirely over the bill, but this month it began reaching deals with Australian media instead. The amended bill would explicitly take those kinds of deals into consideration: "A decision to designate a platform under the Code must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses." Facebook has already reached one such deal with Australian news firm Seven West Media, the companies said Tuesday. The amendments would also extend the notice period from the government to a corporation before it becomes designated under the law and would create a mediation/negotiation window for publishers and platforms to hash out their own payment schemes before going to arbitration. The amendments "add further impetus for parties to engage in commercial negotiations outside the Code—a central feature of the framework that the Government is putting in place to foster more sustainable public interest journalism in Australia," Frydenberg said. Full Facebook service is not yet restored in Australia as of publication time but will be "in the coming days," company executive Campbell Brown said. "It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world," Brown added. "We’ll continue to invest in news globally and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook." Facebook to reverse Australia news ban after lawmakers alter bill
  3. Facebook news ban is “arrogant,” Australia will not be “intimidated,” PM says Deploying a blunt instrument on a whole nation is going just as well as you'd guess. Enlarge / News is still very much happening both around the world and in Australia... but you wouldn't know it if you're one of the tens of millions of Australian Facebook users. Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images A long-simmering battle between tech firms and the government of Australia became explosive yesterday when Facebook announced that it would block all linking of news publications inside the country. Not only has this change affected Australian and international news publishers, but Facebook's wide net has also caught up governments, nonprofits, and basically anyone else in Australia who posts non-news content to the platform. Australian lawmakers have been considering a bill that would require Internet platforms such as Google and Facebook ("digital platform corporations") to negotiate in good faith with news outlets ("registered news business corporations") to link to their content. If the outlets and the platforms can't reach a deal on their own, they would have to go to baseball-style arbitration, where a neutral third-party arbitrator would decide whose offer is the better one. The bill would at first apply to only two companies: Google and Facebook. Both, as you might expect, have expressed consistent opposition to the bill. (Microsoft, operator of remote second-place search engine Bing—which captures between 2 and 3 percent of the market—does not oppose the rules that would apply to its largest competitor.) After months of complaint, Facebook took the nuclear option on Wednesday, blocking all Australian users from sharing links either from Australian or international sources and blocking everyone else in the world from sharing any links to any Australian news sources. At a high level, the dispute is not unlike the cable blackouts US consumers are all too used to experiencing. When two parties can't agree, each one points the finger at the other and tells consumers to blame the other guy for the inconvenience. Meanwhile, consumers are stuck in the middle, facing all the harm. And when the fight is between the world's largest online platforms and an entire country, the stakes are high. Apparently everything is “news” Facebook's universal block turned out to be as blunt an instrument as you could imagine, and for several hours Wednesday it blocked basically all links from being shared in Australia. The ban hit not only news outlets but also a wide range of other websites and organizations inside Australia. City, state, and national government pages, including departments of health that communicate with the public about the pandemic and weather services that warn about fire hazards, were blocked for several hours before being restored. Facebook even suspended its own page for a while. Nonprofits were also affected, according to Bloomberg News. Pages for food banks, domestic violence shelters, the Australia Council of Trade Unions, and a wildlife preservation group were all caught up in the ban, as well as pages for some politicians and emergency services departments. "Government Pages should not be impacted by today’s announcement," a Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg. "As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted." “Arrogant and disappointing” Facebook's actions were "as arrogant as they were disappointing," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in—of course—a Facebook post. "These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. "We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament" as the bill heads to a vote, Morrison added. "I encourage Facebook to constructively work with the Australian Government, as Google recently demonstrated in good faith." Google in January threatened to exit Australia rather than pay to link to news content. Earlier this week, however, Google made a deal with News Corp—media mogul Richard Murdoch's international company—to pay "significant" sums for access to News Corp's US, UK, and Australian news outlets. Australian news outlets—the entities the bill is theoretically designed to boost and protect—were similarly displeased. "Despite key issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic having ongoing effects on all Australians, Facebook has today removed important and credible news and information sources from its Australian platform," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)'s managing director said in a written statement. "We will continue our discussions with Facebook today following this development." The NT News, a regional paper, was more blunt. The cover for its Thursday issue reads: "FEBRUARY 18, 2021. THE DAY FACEBOOK WENT TO WAR WITH AUSTRALIA." Facebook news ban is “arrogant,” Australia will not be “intimidated,” PM says
  4. Big Tech opens wallet for publishers as Australian news code looms Google and Facebook strike deals in effort to stymie rules on paying for content. Enlarge / Close-up photography John Lamb | Getty Images Google and Facebook are rushing to agree to deals with Australian publishers, offering them the most generous licensing terms in the world in an attempt to persuade Canberra not to apply rules forcing tech groups to pay for news. MPs began debating legislation on Wednesday to enact the news media bargaining code, which the EU, UK, and Canada are considering as a model for similar regulations to support publishers in their own jurisdictions. While Google has multi-million-dollar licensing deals with publishers in almost a dozen countries, people involved in negotiations told the Financial Times the sums now under discussion in Australia were “multiple times” the size of those agreements. The developments in Australia are being closely watched in Europe and the US for evidence the tougher approach will reset the balance between publishers and tech platforms. Among the code’s features is an arbitration system that would make binding decisions on the fees Facebook and Google would have to pay news providers if commercial negotiations fail. Google signed a letter of intent on Wednesday with Nine Entertainment, one of Australia’s largest media groups, that outlines a draft agreement to use content from its newspaper, television, and Internet assets, according to a person directly familiar with the deal. The tech group said on Wednesday it had also struck a deal with Junkee Media to curate the small online publisher’s content on its recently launched News Showcase service. Those followed a similar agreement Monday with Seven West Media, a group with TV, newspaper, and digital assets that is reported by Australian media to be worth A$10m to A$30m ($7.7 million to $23 million) per year. By comparison, Google’s recent framework agreement in France with more than 100 publishers is worth about €22 million ($26.5 million) a year in total, according to people familiar with the deal. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Google are also in talks over a potential global content deal, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations. Experts said the tie-ups reflected Google’s desire to ensure Canberra did not apply the toughest elements of the code to its core search function, which the US group has warned it could be forced to close down in Australia. “Google is desperate to not pay for news delivered through their search engine. It looks like they are paying over and above market value to secure deals that specifically exclude Google Search,” said James Meese, a lecturer in communications at RMIT University in Melbourne. Canberra and Google could be coming to some sort of a “tacit agreement,” he added, whereby the government would not apply the code to the tech giant’s search function if it signed enough deals with publishers. Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s treasurer, said none of the commercial deals would have been struck without the code, which had ushered in a “historic moment” for news businesses. The legislation would be enacted through parliament but the government would decide if it was enforced against Google’s search service or Facebook, he said. “With respect to the designation of Google Search or Facebook, they are decisions that I would make after receiving the advice” of Australia’s competition regulator, he told Sky. “But if there are commercial deals in place then that becomes a different equation for me.” Google and Facebook have not released details on how much its deals with publishers are worth, but they are not expected to reach the AU$1 billion a year that News Corp signaled the tech groups owed Australian media owners. Google last year pledged $1 billion over three years to pay global publishers and has said it reached terms with 450 “news partners.” Facebook has made less progress in signing deals with publishers, although it remains in negotiations, said people directly familiar with the matter. The Sydney Morning Herald, the Nine-owned newspaper that first reported the draft deal between Google and its parent, said it would be worth more than AU$30 million a year. Additional reporting by Richard Waters in San Francisco and Alex Barker in London. Big Tech opens wallet for publishers as Australian news code looms
  5. Optus throws down 5G gauntlet, claims fastest speeds in Australia Optus outguns Telstra in 5G download speed, study suggests (Image credit: DenPhotos/Shutterstock) Telstra definitively laid claim to having the widest-ranging 5G network last month, but now Optus has thrown down a gauntlet of its own by claiming to have the fastest 5G speeds in Australia. A report by telecommunications company Systemics-PAB found that Optus’ average 5G download speed was 22% faster than Telstra’s during independent testing that was conducted across Sydney and Melbourne late last year. While Optus outgunned Telstra in download speed tests, it was found that Telstra was better than Optus when it came to 5G average upload throughputs – though only marginally so with a difference of less than 10%. Following the release of the findings, Optus’ managing director, Matt Williams, released a statement which appears to call out Telstra in all but name. In the blog post, Williams requested “one carrier to formally remove their 5G advertising claiming ‘Australia’s best 5G’”. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” says Williams, “you can’t claim to have Australia’s best 5G network if it’s not the fastest”. He went on to say that, “For Optus, this isn’t about stripping our competitor of their self-declared title – this is about being transparent with the Australian consumer, ensuring that they get access to all the facts”. At the time of writing, Telstra’s website still includes the statement: “Australia’s best 5G. Now covering 50% of Australians.” Who has Australia's best 5G? Australia’s two major telcos are still locked in a back and forth over who has the better 5G network, but perhaps inevitably, the answer to who has the best 5G network in Australia lies in what is most important to you. Telstra’s 5G network is available in more locations than Optus, and after announcing that its network now reaches more than 50% of Australians last month, it has aggressive plans to reach 75% of Australians by the end of June this year. While Systemics-PAB concluded that Telstra has the top 5G network when it comes to coverage, it highlighted that for those wanting top download speeds and the lowest possible latency, Optus is the fastest network available – if it’s available in your area. To check availability in your area, compare Telstra’s 5G coverage map with the Optus 5G network map. Optus throws down 5G gauntlet, claims fastest speeds in Australia
  6. Google starts paying Australian publishers under its News Showcase program Google suspended in October of last year the launch of its News Showcase program in Australia amid regulatory hurdles in the country. News Showcase was introduced last year in an effort to pay publishers whose articles are curated for story panels across Google's services. However, Australia was removed from its list after the country's antitrust regulators demanded that the search giant pay royalties to all publishers for their content. Today, Google announced that it is finally launching an initial version of News Showcase in Australia. The company said the licensing program focuses on the "leading regional and independent publishers". The first batch of publishers to receive monthly royalties starting today includes those who joined the program's maiden global launch last year. These are The Canberra Times, The Illawarra Mercury, The Saturday Paper, Crikey, The New Daily, InDaily, and The Conversation. The royalties are for publishers who curate their articles or give access to their paywalled content in hopes of growing their readership. Curated articles under News Showcase will show up on story panels, which will be visible on Google News for Android, iOS and the mobile web as well as in Discover on iOS. The articles will also have an improved view and publishers will gain more insights into what type of content piques the interest of their readers the most. In the future, Google will roll out News Showcase to Search and other platforms where News and Discover are available. Readers who tap on news articles in a story panel will be redirected to the publisher's direct web page. Google plans to enlist more publishers in Australia to the program over the next few months. Google starts paying Australian publishers under its News Showcase program
  7. Privacy Act review to examine privacy tort, direct action rights, and GDPR compliance The Attorney-General's Department will look at carve-outs, harmonisation with states and other nations, and a right to erase for Australians. Australia's Attorney-General Christian Porter announced on Friday the terms of reference and issues paper that his department will use as a basis for its review of the Privacy Act. The wide-ranging review will consider the definition of personal information; whether existing exemptions for small businesses, political parties, and the storing of employee records to comply with the Act should remain; whether individuals should gain the power to drag privacy violators to court; and whether a privacy tort should be created. The review was agreed to as part of the Commonwealth's response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry. In posing 67 questions for submissions to respond to, the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) has asked whether the definition of personal information should be extended to inferred personal information as well as whether additional protections should be extended to de-identified, anonymised, and pseudonymised information. Of particular interest in the paper was the failure of Australian privacy laws to be compatible with those in Europe, especially the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with exemptions created in the Australian law two decades ago being a roadblock. "The [Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC)] noted that no other comparable jurisdiction (the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, and the European Union) exempts small businesses from the general privacy law," the paper said. "The Senate Committee inquiry further recommended the removal of the exemption given the privacy regimes in overseas jurisdictions have operated effectively without a small business exemption and that the existence of the exemption was one of the key outstanding issues preventing Australia from seeking adequacy with the EU. "[The ALRC] also noted that the United Kingdom does not exempt employee records and that removing the exemption may facilitate recognition of the adequacy of Australian privacy law by the EU." On the flip side, the paper pointed out that only UK and Germany were in Australia's top 15 two-way trading partners while other economies around the Asia-Pacific made up 72% of trade. The EU only accounted for 13.5%. "As less trade is undertaken with the EU than within the APEC region, the government's recent priority has been to ensure adequate privacy protections within and between APEC economies," the AGD said. "Requiring businesses to comply with different information handling requirements under the Act, [Cross-Border Privacy Rules] and GDPR could result in a regulatory landscape that is overly complex. On the other hand, compliance with the GDPR may give businesses a competitive advantage in engendering consumer trust." Currently in Australia, if a business has revenue under AU$3 million, it is exempt from the Act, and the paper wrestled with the idea of whether a threshold should remain, and if so, what should it be since businesses under that threshold could handle sensitive personal information yet maintaining the threshold could increase compliance costs for those businesses. Leaning on the ACCC's recommendations, the paper raised the prospect of requiring organisations requesting personal data to implement defaults to make collection of information opt-in. It also asked whether individuals should be made to consent for each purpose and time their information is collected and whether the core concept of consent was effective. The paper also asked whether there should be higher requirements to destroy or de-identify personal information that is held by organisations and whether Australia should have a "right to erasure", which would be an analogue to Europe's right to be forgotten. The potential of handing Australians the power to initiate court action to seek compensation from privacy breaches was also raised -- Australians currently can only directly apply for an injunction -- and questions on how to stop the courts being filled with actions over "trivial breaches", such as funnelling complaints via the Office of the Information Commissioner for conciliation or capping damages, were also asked. The paper also discussed the idea of whether a statutory tort of privacy was needed, with the AGD saying it would allow for privacy breaches not covered by the Privacy Act to be caught, but also that recent criminal legislation may lower the need for such a tort. "A key issue for the design of a statutory tort of privacy is the types of liability it would cover. That is, liability based on intention, liability based on negligence or strict liability," the AGD said. "The ALRC recommended that a statutory tort should be confined to intentional or reckless invasions of privacy and should not extend to negligent invasions of privacy or attract strict liability. However, it is questionable that an invasion of privacy due to gross negligence where a person may not have been reckless but failed to exercise even the slightest degree of care and diligence in relation to an obvious risk should be outside scope." The terms of reference also stated the review would not look into any changes to the Privacy Act that were made to cater for the government's COVIDSafe app, nor recent changes made to credit reporting. Submissions to the review have a deadline of November 29, with a discussion paper set to appear early next year. A date for the final report was not specified. "Australians are spending more and more of their time online and more of their personal information is being collected, handled and stored," Porter said. "Technology is also rapidly evolving in areas such as artificial intelligence and data analytics, which is why it is crucial that we have a privacy regime that is fit for purpose, can grow trust, empower consumers, and support the growing digital economy." The review will also examine the effectiveness of the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme. "The NDB Scheme commenced on 22 February 2018. There are therefore some difficulties in determining at this stage whether the scheme has achieved its long term objectives," the AGD said. Source: Privacy Act review to examine privacy tort, direct action rights, and GDPR compliance
  8. Says changes would allow, as one example, the department to impose conditions relating to the use of entities in the supply chain. Under Australia's Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms (TSSR), all carriers and nominated carriage service providers (C/NCSPs) are required to notify the Communications Access Coordinator (CAC) of proposed changes to their telecommunications systems or services if they become aware of any proposed changes that are likely to have a "material adverse effect" on their capacity to comply with security obligations. As of 30 June 2020, the Department of Home Affairs has received a total of 66 notifications. It told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) the notifications received from carriers to date represented the vast majority of the fixed-line and mobile telecommunications market in Australia. In its submission [PDF] to the PJCIS, Home Affairs suggested additional types of notices "with more nuanced language" to reflect various levels and types of risk and the urgency of adopting further mitigations. "Home Affairs notes that there has been some variation among C/NCSPs in their approach to the TSSR notification obligation. The obligation relies on self-determination by C/NCSPs of whether a proposed change warrants a notification, regardless of the guidance provided by Home Affairs," it wrote. "There have been instances where Home Affairs has engaged with a carrier about a proposed change to their networks and subsequently recommended that the carrier submit a notification as it was Home Affairs' view that the features and characteristics of the proposed change introduced significant risk." Despite Home Affairs' recommendations to these carriers, the department said they did not proceed to submit a formal notification, as in the carrier's view, the proposed changes to their networks or facilities did not meet the carrier's internal risk assessment thresholds for formal notification. "In the absence of a notification, government has no visibility of changes to networks or steps taken to mitigate risks and cannot provide advice," Home Affairs said. The PJCIS is currently conducting a statutory review of the operation of Part 14 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to the extent that it was amended by the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 TSSR. The reforms passed in September 2017 and commenced exactly one year later, which established a regulatory framework for managing the national security risks of Australia's telecommunications networks and facilities. Home Affairs said telecommunications networks and facilities, and the carriers and CSPs that own or operate them, are attractive targets for espionage, sabotage, and foreign interference activity by state and non-state actors. "TSSR is a principles-based framework that formalises the good faith engagement between Home Affairs and Australia's telecommunications sector to better manage national security risks to telecommunications networks," the department says. The TSSR introduced four key elements: Security obligation, notification obligation, information gathering power, and a directions power. Home Affairs said amending the Act to allow it to request notification about a proposed change, including in circumstances where a C/NCSP has internally determined that it need not notify, would ensure that any changes to telecommunications networks and systems do not introduce national security risks. Amending the Act to give Home Affairs the ability to impose conditions, including conditions relating to the use of entities in the supply chain, or require a C/NCSP to take specific action would help to mitigate identified risks with a proposed change, the department said. It explained this would ensure the conditions or mitigations are implemented and appropriate for the lifecycle of the change. In making this statement, the department noted amendments to include a formal mechanism that requires the C/NCSP to continue to engage with Home Affairs after conditions or mitigations have been imposed. The department also flagged the requirement for C/NCSPs to have in place a security capability plan that can demonstrate they are meeting their baseline security requirements as another potential TSSR enhancement. This is tackled in the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020, which seeks to amend the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 to implement "an enhanced framework to uplift the security and resilience of Australia's critical infrastructure". "Noting that telecommunications remains a key sector of critical infrastructure, the [positive security obligation (PSO)], if applied to the telecommunications sector … could replace the current security capability plan provision," Home Affairs said. Further enhancements were listed under the directions powers, which grants the Minister for Home Affairs the power to issue a written direction to a C/CSP not to use or supply, or to cease using or supplying, a carriage service if, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the minister considers the proposed use or supply of the carriage service is or would be prejudicial to security. "The directions powers are considered to be appropriate last resort mechanisms. However, the graduated powers that will be available under the [Protecting Critical Infrastructure and Systems of National Significance] reforms, should they be passed by Parliament, would assist to provide options for government to address risks that are of a lower order," it said. "Graduated powers being designed under the … reforms could extend the positive security obligation that includes risk management planning obligations which would allow government to indicate where telecommunications entities may need to take steps to address risks in their supply chains without resorting to the directions power." Telstra used its submission [PDF] to the PJCIS to highlight its support of the use of the existing TSSR framework and that it believes there will be significant benefits in using it to meet the government's objectives of strengthening the existing security of critical infrastructure framework. It asked for the informal engagement model to be legislated into the TSSR and that formal notifications be used as a last resort mechanism where entities fail to engage with government. Telstra also recommended that the information gathering and direction powers under the TSSR remain in place and be carried into the sector-specific rules under the proposed Critical Infrastructure and Systems of National Significance reforms. "Whilst this regime has not been tested, the safeguards and guardrails were heavily negotiated during the TSSR implementation and should remain," the telco said. Global cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks also submitted [PDF] its opinion to the committee, asking the PJCIS look at ways to "encourage and incentify ISPs and telcos to maintain constant real-time visibility across traffic passing through their networks and be able to detect and stop cybersecurity threats in real time within that traffic for all customers". It also noted the merits of adopting a clean pipes solution to protect the nation from cyber threats and make it a less attractive target to adversaries. Source
  9. (NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens) A Massive Raft of Volcanic Rock Is Floating Towards Australia, And That's Good News A gigantic floating raft of volcanic rock that emerged from an underwater volcano eruption in the Pacific Ocean is slowly drifting towards the Australian coast, heartening hopes it could benefit the imperilled Great Barrier Reef. The massive pumice raft – over 20,000 football fields in size and composed of volcanic rock that's light enough to float on the surface of water – appeared only a few weeks ago, after a suspected underwater volcanic eruption near Tonga. Satellite imagery first revealed the giant formation on the water's surface on August 9, corresponding with reports from sailors at the time. But the most remarkable observations came from the crew of the Australian adventure catamaran ROAM, who found themselves adrift amidst the huge mass of floating rocks, "completely covering the ocean surface". (NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens) "Rubble slick made up of rocks from marble to basketball size such that water was not visible," the sailors wrote in a Facebook post. "The rubble slick went as far as we could see in the moonlight and with our spotlight." The same kind of experience was reported by sailor Shannon Lenz, who posted incredible footage of sailing through the rock raft on YouTube: "We sailed through a pumice field for 6–8 hours, much of the time there was no visible water," Lenz wrote. "It was like ploughing through a field. We figured the pumice was at least 6 inches thick." While the volcanic phenomenon could constitute a sailing hazard for other vessels, news of the raft formation is being welcomed by scientists, especially since the pumice slick is drifting towards the east coast of Australia. "This is a potential mechanism for restocking the Great Barrier Reef," says geologist Scott Bryan from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). "Based on past pumice raft events we have studied over the last 20 years, it's going to bring new healthy corals and other reef dwellers to the Great Barrier Reef." ROAM sailor Michael Hoult with pumice samples (Sail Surf ROAM/Facebook) According to Bryan and fellow QUT researchers, the floating rock slick is expected to drift pass New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and may pass through coral reef areas in the eastern Coral Sea. Importantly, this should happen at about the same time as the region goes through it's main coral spawning later in the year, which could transform the rocky pumice into a travelling ecosystem. "At the moment the pumice will be bare and barren but over the next few weeks it's going to start getting organisms attached to it," Bryan says. "It will be able to pick up corals and other reef building organisms, and then bring them into the Great Barrier Reef. Each piece of pumice is a rafting vehicle. It's a home and a vehicle for marine organisms to attach and hitch a ride across the deep ocean to get to Australia." While the pumice and its payload of algae, barnacles, corals and other marine lifeforms hold the potential to help partially regenerate the Great Barrier Reef's organic matter, others say we need to keep these benefits in perspective. "Reefs will be gone unless we tackle anthropogenic heating," marine biologist Terry Hughes from James Cook University tweeted in relation to media coverage of the pumice. "The coral reef crisis won't be solved by a robot, fans, plastic corals or an aquarium - we have to tackle the root causes, especially greenhouse gas emissions." Source: A Massive Raft of Volcanic Rock Is Floating Towards Australia, And That's Good News
  10. Scientists Found a Hidden 'Jurassic World' Buried Underneath Australia The subterranean remains of 100 volcanoes formed some 180 million years ago were detected under a major petroleum hotspot. Tengger Caldera in Indonesia. Image: Jean-Marie Hullot A trove of 100 Jurassic-era volcanoes has been discovered deep underneath a petroleum-rich region of central Australia, according to a new study. The ancient volcanoes formed between 180 and 160 million years ago, just as the prehistoric supercontinent Gondwana—of which Australia was once a part—began to break apart. For millennia, this underground volcanic landscape lay buried underground, eluding detection. The subterranean range was detected in 2017 by a team of scientists led by geoscientist Jonathon Hardman, who was pursuing his PhD at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland at the time (he is now employed by the oil services company CGG). Hardman and his colleagues named the formation the Warnie Volcanic Province, and published their findings in the journal Gondwana Research. The Warnie Volcanic Province is located more than a kilometer beneath the Cooper and Eromanga Basins, a region of dinosaur-aged sedimentary rock that spans more than 1 million square kilometers. Imagery from the Gondwana Research paper. Image: University of Aberdeen/University of Adelaide These deposits have been a hotspot of oil and gas production since the 1960s, and the region is currently Australia’s largest onshore source of hydrocarbons, which made the new find particularly surprising. According to the study authors, finding such an epic volcanic landscape in an area that has already undergone substantial data collection “raises the prospect of other undiscovered [...] volcanic provinces both in Australia and in other continental areas worldwide.” Some 1,400 oil wells have been drilled in this area over the past half-century, some of which turned up igneous rocks that suggested ancient lava might be preserved in the sediment. To probe deep in the deposits, Hardman and his colleagues collected seismic, well, gravity, and magnetic data from the Nappamerri Trough inside the Cooper Basin. This enabled them to sketch out the outline of the Warnie Volcanic Province, which is formally named after the nearby Warnie East 1 exploration well and informally named in honor of Australian cricketer Shane Warne. It’s not clear why these active volcanoes formed 180 million years ago, especially since they were not located above any continental plate borders during the Jurassic Period, which is what normally drives volcanism. Hardman and his colleagues proposed a few possible explanations for the province’s formation, such as the presence of plumes or upwellings of molten rock in Earth’s mantle, which is a hot layer of our planet below the surface and crust. But the team emphasized that “more work needs to be conducted on the area before it can be concluded what the source of the Warnie Volcanic Province is.” Regardless of the processes that formed it, it’s clear that the range had a major effect on its “Jurassic world,” in the words of study co-author Simon Holford of the University of Adelaide. Long ago, these mountains belched lava and ash over the rivers and lakes surrounding them, before they, too, were ultimately submerged by eons worth of sediment. Source: Scientists Found a Hidden 'Jurassic World' Buried Underneath Australia
  11. This meteorite came from the core of another planet. Inside it, a new mineral Scientists have discovered a new mineral, one never before seen in nature, lodged inside a meteorite found near Wedderburn in central Victoria. They believe the mineral was likely forged in the molten core of an ancient planet long since destroyed. Dr Stuart Mills with the Wedderburn meteorite. Scientists have discovered a new mineral buried inside it, forged in the core of a planet that no longer exists. Credit:Justin McManus The meteorite is red and black and deeply scarred from its million-year-plus journey, and certainly looks the part. The mineral it contains has been christened edscottite. The mineral was found after close examination of the Wedderburn Meteorite, a lemon-sized chunk of metal found just outside Wedderburn in 1951, and now a part of Museums Victoria’s collection. We have found many meteorites, but a meteorite from the core of another planet is extremely rare. Over the years several inquisitive scientists from around the world, desperate to study it, have managed to secure slices; only 71 grams of the original 220-gram rock are still held within the museum’s vaults. A team from CalTech in the US managed to get their hands on a slice in 2018, to see if it contained any rare minerals. A mineral is an arrangement of atoms in different shapes. Diamond, for example, is an arrangement of carbon atoms. Graphite in the tip of a pencil is carbon too, but arranged in a different structure. Inside the meteorite, sandwiched between other layers of minerals, the researchers found a thin sliver of a new material. Under a microscope, it resembles tiny white crystals. The mineral, they discovered, is made of iron and carbon atoms mixed together into a certain pattern. They named it edscottite, after Edward Scott, a pioneering cosmochemist at the University of Hawaii. “This meteorite had an abundance of carbon in it. And as it slowly cooled down, the iron and carbon came together and formed this mineral,” says Dr Stuart Mills, Museums Victoria's senior curator of geosciences. Scientists have come across edscottite before, inside smelters. It is one of the phases iron goes through when it is smelted into steel. But they have never seen it naturally occurring. And minerals only get a name when you can find them in nature. “We have discovered 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the lab, but fewer than 6000 that nature’s done itself,” says Dr Mills. Now, about that planet. What happened to it? “It got blasted apart,” says Geoffrey Bonning, a planetary scientist at the Australian National University. Our solar system – the Earth, Australia, you and me – started out as dust emitted by long-dead stars. That dust swirled through space until gravity finally started to pull it together, bit by bit. Those lumps grew larger and larger, first forming grains of sand, then big chunks, then kilometre-wide asteroids. Eventually those asteroids chunked together to form planets. “All rocks to some degree are a little bit radioactive,” says Mr Bonning. “So this planet, it starts to melt inside.” Hot metal would have dripped down into the planet’s core. The heat and pressure generated minerals like edscottite. And then, at some point, the planet got blasted apart. It was probably hit by another planet or moon, or a huge asteroid, says Mr Bonning. Many planets were created and destroyed in the early days of the solar system. Rubble from the collision was strewn across the solar system, much of it ending up in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Wedderburn meteorite circled out there for a few million years, before a chance collision sent it racing towards Earth. Source: This meteorite came from the core of another planet. Inside it, a new mineral
  12. Hot, dry weather sending reptiles to seek cool and moist places QUEENSLAND • In Australia, snakes sometimes slither into suburban backyards and homes. When the weather gets warm, they lounge in the sun. When it gets hot, they seek cool places: a wall crevice, under a refrigerator, under a barbecue grille, behind an air-conditioning unit. When it gets too hot and dry, they seek places with moisture, as some Australians are quickly learning. Mr Luke Huntley, a snake catcher in Queensland, East Australia, has had to remove snakes from people's bathrooms, as the country experiences a record-setting heatwave. Last week, he removed a 2m-long python that had slithered into an open door and climbed into the shower not only to escape the heat but also to find water. Days earlier, he pulled a small tree snake that had coiled in another homeowner's toilet bowl. "With the hot days and dry weather, these snakes are trying to hydrate and stay cool just like us," Mr Huntley wrote on his Facebook page. Also recently, an unsuspecting woman went into a dimly lit bathroom of a Brisbane home, not bothering to look into the toilet bowl. After she sat down, she felt a "tap" on her skin followed by a sharp pain, Ms Helen Richards told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She looked down and saw a python looking up at her. As a polar vortex hits the US Midwest, the extreme opposite is happening in Australia. The heatwave has parched landscapes, triggered damaging wildfires, pushed demand on the power grid to the brink and toppled significant records, Capital Weather Gang's Angela Fritz wrote last week. Temperatures soared to 47.7 deg C last Thursday in Adelaide, South Australia. That is the highest temperature for any capital in Australia, according to Ms Fritz. In the south-eastern corner of the country, overnight temperatures were as high as 36 deg C - the warmest overnight lows for January anywhere in the world. Australia's climate has warmed by just over 1 deg C since 1910, leading to more frequent heatwaves and severe drought conditions, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Eight of Australia's top-10 warmest years on record have happened in the past 13 years. And with warmer weather come more snake sightings. Snake season starts in September, the beginning of spring in Australia. It goes on throughout the summer, from December to February. Australia has around 140 species of land snakes. As cities and urban development encroach into snake habitats, residents - and their pets - are more likely to encounter snakes, particularly in the spring, University of Melbourne researchers said. "As it warms up and we get a bit more sun, snakes come out to bask," Dr Timothy Jackson, a research fellow at the university's Australian Venom Research Unit, said in September. "When they're warm enough, they get hungry - they may not have eaten for months." Snakes, though, are not to be feared. "This is nothing to be alarmed about, but it does give us an additional reason to pay attention to our surroundings because, as we all know, encounters with snakes don't always end well," Dr Jackson said. "It's important to understand that this isn't because snakes are out to get us. The last thing a snake wants to see when it's out looking for a feed is a giant primate, dog or cat." Unfortunately, that has not always held true. Mr Huntley, the snake catcher, was called a couple of weeks ago to a home where a python ate a house cat. Source
  13. Australia isn't buying local cyber and the rest of the world might soon follow Early Stage technology investor and partner at Amadeus Capital, Alex van Someren, has warned the encryption-busting legislation hasn't made Australia an attractive place to buy cyber from. Organisations wanting to get off the ground in Australia have long battled with the tyranny of distance when selling on the global stage, but they have closed the gap over recent years, thanks to that little thing called the internet and the ability to transact through a cable. Lucky for them, especially since Australia isn't overly interested in buying Australian when it comes to cybersecurity, Alex van Someren, Early Stage technology investor and partner at Amadeus Capital, told the AustCyber AllStars program at the Sydney Joint Cyber Security Centre on Monday. "Australian buyers are unwilling to buy Australian technology ... that's a crying shame, that's a real missed opportunity in terms of supporting local creativity, and it's particularly ironic because the impression that I get in the rest of the world is the respect that people have for Australian engineering and the quality of what's actually produced is very high indeed," he said. "It's actually the opposite of the way that people are behaving locally. "It just seems crazy that [people are] not really exploiting the potential in Australia and the message I get from outside Australia is completely different." However, Australian cyber organisations are now dealing with yet another roadblock to having their product consumed overseas and as van Someren highlighted, it's Canberra that is having a global influence over how Australian cyber is portrayed. In July 2017, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced his plan to develop legislation that allows access to encrypted communications for law enforcement. That plan has since emerged as the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018. "If you set yourselves up as the place least welcoming to cybersecurity practitioners in the world, it's definitely going to make it harder to build great cybersecurity businesses -- sorry," van Someren said of the rushed legislation. The Bill, coupled with the recent government email breach, certainly hasn't helped Australia sell itself to the rest of the world, either. The nation's political parties were hit in an online attack last month that forced a password reset of all Australian Parliament House network users, including politicians and all of their staffers. "It has become clear that the local infrastructure of politicians email was not up to the mark and that is a genuine embarrassment because it is being used as an example that sophistication isn't available [to Australian operations] -- everybody in the world has breaches," he said of the breach. According to van Someren, both of these cyber-related incidents have made it harder for the lives of those trying to be in business in cybersecurity. "It's kind of unhelpful that your politicians decide you should have an unusually challenging legislative background to cybersecurity," he added. "I don't think it means investors will run away screaming ... but many other places don't have similar challenges." Having more cyber companies locally could help an industry thrive, but one of the problems facing the emergence of more technology firms, echoed by CSIRO and government bodies ad nauseam, is that Australia isn't that good at converting inventions and research into a product or an industry. "Here's the challenge: Building businesses isn't the same as building science projects," van Someren added. Source
  14. It appeared to be a sweet, easy way to import large loads of cocaine from southern California to the highly-profitable and unquenchable market of Australia. Owen Hanson, the good-looking former University of Southern California athlete turned cocaine kingpin and leader of violent criminal enterprise ODOG, teamed up with Los Angeles-based fine chocolate importer/exporters Nathan and Andrew Dulley. Hanson and his California-based henchmen would drop off large batches of cocaine - usually in quantities of tens of kilograms or more - and the Dulley brothers would intermix and package the drugs with legitimate chocolate merchandise to disguise it from the shipper and Australian and US customs authorities. The Dulleys would use their established import/export routes, and when the shipments landed in Australia ODOG members would distribute the drugs. Just like Hanson, sentenced in a San Diego court last year to more than 21 years in prison, the Dulleys, Nathan, 36, and Andrew, 34, now face long jail stints in America's federal prison system. The brothers entered guilty pleas to international drug trafficking charges in San Diego on Thursday to become the latest affiliates of the ODOG drug, money laundering and illegal gambling syndicate to fall following a highly-successful joint covert operation by NSW Police, the NSW Crime Commission, FBI and US Drug Enforcement Administration. So far 22 other defendants charged in connection with the case have pleaded guilty in US courts. "Transnational racketeering organisations represent a clear and present danger to the safety and security of our communities," US Attorney for the southern district of California Adam Braverman said. "Those who assist such criminal enterprises by allowing the corruption of their otherwise legitimate businesses will be held accountable for the harm wrought on our communities." The gangster lifestyle that Hanson, a muscle-bound playboy and former member of the champion USC gridiron team, had enjoyed collapsed when New South Wales police, the FBI and other authorities swooped on him at a golf course near San Diego in 2015. The 36-year-old was attracted to the huge profits he could make by trafficking cocaine to eager buyers in Australia. He boasted how he could sell a kilogram of cocaine in Australia for US$175,000 (NZ$262,885) compared to US$20,000 in Los Angeles. His downfall began in 2011 with the discovery in a Sydney hotel room of a suitcase containing A$702,000 (NZ$760,305) cash. Authorities followed a trail that eventually led them to Hanson and ODOG. At Hanson's sentencing last year prosecutor Andrew Young described how Hanson fashioned himself as a mob boss. He used the handle "Don Corleone" on his encrypted Blackberry and insisted a restaurant he was a partner in had a "Wise Guy Room" adorned with mob photos. Professional gambler Robert Cipriani told the court how Hanson embarked on a terror campaign against him and his actress girlfriend Greice Santo in an attempt to recoup money Hanson demanded. Hanson had red paint splattered on Cipriani's mother's grave and sent DVDs to the couple showing actual beheadings of people with a chainsaw and knife. Source
  15. Two class action lawsuits filed in Australia's High Court claim people seeking asylum in Australia who arrive by boat without proper documentation are subject to torture and crimes against humanity. The suits say the Australian government is also guilty of intentional infliction of harm in the use of an offshore processing system, according to The Guardian. A refugee transit center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, in a photo taken last year. Two class action lawsuits are seeking injunctions to transfer refugees held there to Australia and award damages to them. Two class action lawsuits filed in Australia's High Court claim people seeking asylum in Australia who arrive by boat without proper documentation are subject to torture and crimes against humanity. The suits say the Australian government is also guilty of intentional infliction of harm in the use of an offshore processing system, according to The Guardian. The suits were filed by the National Justice Project, a human rights group based in Australia, and represent about 1,200 migrants detained in camps on the independent island of Nauru and on Manus, Papua New Guinea. Researchers and activists say many of them fled from places such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Myanmar and even Bangladesh seeking asylum. The suits accuse the Australian government of breaking international law and abrogating its "duty of care" for asylum seekers, reports The New York Times. The team representing the migrants is seeking injunctions to transfer the asylum seekers to safety in Australia and award damages, arguing that they have been subject to arbitrary imprisonment and severe deprivation of physical liberty; denial of proper medical assessments and treatment; inadequate security and protection; inadequate food and water; inadequate accommodation; and an unhygienic environment, the Times reports. For several years, The Guardian reports, there have been serious allegations and incidents on Manus and Nauru of "officials denying, delaying or blocking the transfers of people who doctors said required urgent medical care." The National Justice Project said the Australian government was continuing to treat its clients in this manner "in order to deter other people from trying to get to Australia by boat in order to seek asylum," according to The Guardian. In October, aid group Médecins Sans Frontières said the mental health situation of refugees on Nauru is "beyond desperate," and called "for the immediate evacuation of all asylum seekers and refugees from the island and for an end to the Australian offshore detention policy." The New York Times reports, "In documents submitted to the court, detainees describe conditions on the islands that include 'high levels of self-harm, including self-cutting, lip sewing, swallowing rocks, burning with cigarettes' and 'refraining from eating and drinking.' " Australia's Department of Home Affairs has not replied to a request seeking comment on the lawsuits. In September 2016, NPR's Steve Inskeep spoke with Australia's then-immigration minister, Peter Dutton, about the country's policy toward people trying to arrive by boat without proper permission. Dutton said settlement of refugees such as those on Manus and Nauru might result in an uncontrollable influx of migrants to Australia in the future. "The fear is that the 50,000 would come again on 800 boats and we would have 1,200 people drowning at sea. The image that people saw on the television screens of the little boy who died in the waters of the Mediterranean - that played out 1,200 times," Dutton said. In June 2017, NPR reported the Australian government agreed to a $70 million ($53 million U.S.) settlement with 1,905 people who were held at a refugee detention camp on Manus Island. In that lawsuit, detainees accused the Australian government of negligence and false imprisonment. Some of the beneficiaries were to be granted asylum in the U.S. "The Obama administration agreed to take 1,250 refugees from Manus and other offshore facilities," NPR reported. "The Trump administration has agreed to uphold the agreement, though President Trump has called it a 'dumb deal.' " In the past Australia's Department of Home Affairs has refuted claims of dangerous conditions for people in off-shore detention centers. Earlier this year, in response to a Refugee Council of Australia's report on the processing of refugees in Nauru, the department wrote: In its response, the department also affirmed, "The Australian Government's position has not changed; these individuals will never settle permanently in Australia." Source
  16. A Dutchman completed an epic 95,000 kilometre (59,000 mile) journey by electric car in Sydney Sunday in a bid to prove the viability of such vehicles in tackling climate change. Wiebe Wakker took just over three years crossing 33 countries in his 95,000 km journey by electric car Wiebe Wakker drove his retrofitted station wagon nicknamed "The Blue Bandit" across 33 countries in what he said was the world's longest-ever journey by electric car. The trip from the Netherlands to Australia took just over three years and was funded by public donations from around the world, including electricity to charge the Bandit, food and a place to sleep. Wakker drove across a variety of countries and environments including Turkey, Iran, India, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia, with the route determined by the offers he received on his website. "I wanted to change people's opinions and inspire people to start driving electric by showing the advantages of sustainable mobility," Wakker said. "If one man can drive to the other side of the world in an electric car, then EVs (electric vehicles) should definitely be viable for daily use." Wakker said before the car was modified, it would have used 6,785 litres (1,800 US gallons) of petrol to complete the journey. The modified vehicle can travel 200 kilometres on a single charge, with Wakker saying he spent just US$300 on electricity, much of it in the remote desert Outback of Australia. Source
  17. Facebook may block news from being shared on its platforms in Australia Proposed rules to force tech platforms to share ad revenues with news publishers are not workable, the company says Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge Facebook plans to block the sharing of local and international news stories on its platforms if legislation requiring tech platforms to pay publishers for content becomes law, the company said in a blog post Monday. “Australia is drafting a new regulation that misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect,” Will Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand wrote in the blog post, arguing that the commission overseeing the process “ignored important facts,” including the relationship between social media and news media. “Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram.” Easton continued. “This is not our first choice — it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.” The country’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code law, which is in draft form at present, stemmed from a 2019 inquiry that found tech giants like Facebook and Google take too large a share of online advertising revenue from media organizations in Australia. The Treasurer of Australia ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to develop a voluntary code of conduct which would force the platforms to pay media companies. The ACCC told the government it seemed “unlikely” that a voluntary agreement could be reached, however. Under the proposed legislation, Google and Facebook would have to provide publishers with advance notice of changes to their algorithms, with penalties for failing to comply. Both companies have pushed back strongly against this provision. with Facebook saying it would give news organizations in Australia an unfair competitive advantage. Easton wrote in his post that news represents a fraction of what Facebook users see in their news feeds, and is “not a significant source of revenue” for the company. In addition to investing “millions of dollars” in Australian news businesses, he added, “over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites at no charge — additional traffic worth an estimated $200 million AUD to Australian publishers.” Earlier this month, Google published an open letter about the proposed law, and added a pop-up to its homepage in Australia warning “the way Aussies use Google is at risk” and that the regulation could hurt their search experience. The law, Google argued, “is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk.” The ACCC pushed back, saying Google’s letter contains “misinformation,” and added that “a healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy.” Media companies in Australia have largely supported the proposed changes. Australia’s newspapers and media outlets, like their counterparts in other countries, have been hard-hit by the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian has reported. Large Australian media companies have asked staff to take pay cuts in recent months, and several newspapers were forced to halt production because of a sharp decline in advertising revenue. Facebook may block news from being shared on its platforms in Australia
  18. Can Australia Force Google and Facebook to Pay for News? A proposed law would require the tech giants to negotiate with publishers. Similar attempts in Europe have largely failed. Illustration: Sam Whitney Australians visiting Google.com last week found, hovering below the search bar, an exclamation point encased in a yellow triangle. A warning: “The way Aussies search every day on Google is at risk from new government regulation.” The warning links to an open letter from Google Australia and New Zealand managing director Mel Silva. Google’s and YouTube’s offering in Australia could become “dramatically worse,” she warns. The services themselves are “at risk.” All Australians users could be affected. Silva’s warning stems from a proposed law that would require Google and Facebook to negotiate with news outlets and pay for news content featured on their platforms. Australian regulators say the tech giants benefit from publishing news generated by others, but Google and Facebook are so dominant in search and social, respectively, that publishers can’t make them pay for it. It’s not the first time a country has tried to force Google and Facebook to pay media companies for republishing their news. A 2014 Spanish law required publishers to charge Google for the headlines and snippets of their stories that appeared on Google News. In response, the company removed the Google News service from Spain and took Spanish publishers off its news service globally. Readership of news stories dropped, particularly at smaller, less-well-known outlets, according to one study. Last year, France wrote into law an EU copyright directive that demands Google pay for the news content that appears on its sites. Google was ordered back to the bargaining table this year after it removed French publishers’ snippets from its search results and did not pay for links. In 2014, Germany’s biggest publishing house briefly barred Google from featuring snippets of its articles in a bid to make the search giant pay licensing fees but backed out after traffic plunged. Australian officials studied those efforts and took a different approach. They are not relying on copyright law, and they included measures designed to prevent Google or Facebook from dropping or down-ranking Australian news based on whether outlets try to negotiate a price, as happened in Europe. In response, Google is pitting itself against “big media companies” and appealing to the Australian public to oppose the proposal. Regulators and media executives around the world are watching to see if Australia can succeed where others have stumbled. The Australian approach could set a global precedent, says Belinda Barnet, a senior lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology. “If every country in the world starts demanding the same, then it will have an impact on [Google and Facebook’s] financial model.” The proposed Australian law emerged from an 18-month inquiry into the power of digital platforms by the country’s competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The commission concluded that many news businesses are reliant on—and benefit from—Google and Facebook for traffic but have little bargaining power with the tech giants. It also found that while Google and Facebook derived little advertising revenue from featuring news headlines and snippets on their sites, original news content benefited both platforms. More than one-third of Facebook users reported using the social media site to access news, according to the ACCC. Google placed a Top Stories carousel of headlines and snippets in response to 8 to 14 percent of queries, which the commission said indicated that Google values surfacing news content. Google’s ability to provide high-quality and reliable search, and Facebook’s ability to attract and retain eyeballs on its feed, the ACCC argued, relied to some degree on their ability to showcase independent, accurate news content. The dispute is “about the extent to which [news publishers’] content drives traffic, and they don’t receive returns from that,” says Terry Flew, a professor at the Queensland University of Technology. He says the proposed law recognizes “that each party derives benefit from the other. In the case of the platforms, it’s the content; in the case of the publishers, it’s the distribution channels.” Australia, Flew says, has “proposed that there must be a just price, if you like, for the financial benefit gained by the platforms.” That just price is intended to result from negotiations between the online platforms and media companies. Should they fail to agree, the parties will submit “final offers” to a panel of arbitrators, who must choose one or the other. The proposed law also would require that Google and Facebook give news outlets 28 days notice of changes to their algorithms that would harm news businesses, such as removing snippets, down-ranking publishers, or closing Google News in the country. Violations, including of the nondiscrimination requirement, could result in fines of up to 10 percent of the platform’s annual revenue in Australia—for each offense. Silva, the Google executive, says the company pays some publishers for their content, through a licensing agreement announced in June with several Australian, Brazilian, and German publishers, and is looking to do more so, but that the draft code is “unworkable.” Google says the continual changes to its algorithm make it impractical to identify changes that might affect news businesses. The proposal, Silva said in a statement, “ignores the significant value Google provides to news publishers.” Sharing details about the algorithm “would provide an unfair advantage to news businesses and help them feature more prominently in organic search results at the expense of other businesses, creators, and website owners,” she said, adding that the proposal also doesn’t include safeguards for data shared with news businesses. Together, Google argues, these conditions put its services in Australia at risk. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can to get this proposal changed,” Silva wrote in the open letter to Australians. Asked in July whether this could mean removing Australian news from its services, Silva replied: “All options are on the table.” Facebook hasn’t directly appealed to users to oppose the proposed law. Will Easton, the company’s managing director in Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement when the proposal was released in July, “We are reviewing the government's proposal to understand the impact it will have on the industry, our services, and our investment in the news ecosystem in Australia.” Fires, a Pandemic, and 8 Reporters Australia’s news media industry has been contracting, with title closures and journalist job losses across the country. Media companies are in a bind, Flew says. They can’t afford not to be on Facebook and Google, but the distribution of news on the platforms undermines news media companies’ ability to monetize their content and build brands. In its inquiry, the competition commission found that after viewing news snippets, some consumers won’t click through to a news site where the publisher can generate advertising revenue. Google and Facebook account for 71 percent of the $6.5 billion (US) spent annually in Australia. But the commission did not base its proposal on lost advertising revenue. Rather, it argues that the content itself is of intrinsic value to platforms and therefore they should pay for it. One of the country’s largest media companies, Nine, headed by a former federal treasurer, has suggested the two companies compensate media companies up to $432 million (US) for use of their content. Belinda Barnet, senior lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology For smaller outlets, any compensation at all would be welcome. Bruce Ellen’s team of eight journalists at the Latrobe Valley Express newspaper, covering an area east of Melbourne, has had a busy year. Summer bushfires singed the edges of their readership’s region. Then, as Covid-19 hit in the autumn and returned for a second, more deadly wave in the winter, the newspaper published breaking and exclusive stories about test shortages and the outbreak of clusters in the area. This kind of reporting could not be found anywhere else. But it appears via a Google search and is posted on Facebook, including by the paper itself. “We get no recompense from Google at all,” says Ellen, general manager of the paper. “Not one cent. My P&L shows nothing at all.” News is valued by users of Facebook and Google and can attract and keep users on the platforms. It costs his business to produce this content, but so far it has cost Facebook and Google nothing to feature it in headline or snippet form. “They’re leveraging our content to drive traffic,” says Ellen. The proposed law is not a panacea for the problems facing news media, he says.“We have to row our own boat.” But it could help stop the hemorrhaging of journalists and publications. For his paper, believed to be the last regional newspaper in Australia to print two editions a week, it might just mean survival. “In reality it means we can continue to employ the same number of journalists,” he says. A Battle for Public Opinion The code has received a generally warm reception from Australian news businesses. News Corporation Australasia executive chair Michael Miller called it a “watershed moment.” In a statement, he said that the law would mean that the platforms, which derive “immense benefit” from news content “will no longer be able to use their power to walk away from negotiations with news creators … The tech platforms' days of free-riding on other people's content are ending.” A consultation period over the proposed law ended Friday. The ACCC will consider revisions before putting the proposal before Parliament. With general support from both the governing conservative coalition and the Labor opposition, the legislation is expected to pass. “Then we get into the realm of public opinion and pressure,” says Flew, the Queensland professor. “The strongest card that Google and Facebook have is a strong dislike of News Corporation and mainstream media in general in Australia, in particular among young people.” Google “could potentially rally the troops in a way that no other company could,” says Barnet. “It’s their only option. But it’s huge.” Shortly after Google released its open letter, the ACCC responded, accusing Google of spreading “misinformation” by suggesting it might have to charge for its services or share additional user data. Google disputes that its letter included misinformation. “Our little ACCC has got the chutzpah,” says Barnet. Back in the Latrobe Valley, Ellen harbors a cautious optimism. “But the fight has only just begun,” says the newspaper manager. “I assure you.” Can Australia Force Google and Facebook to Pay for News?
  19. Australia's CovidSafe tracking app is now available – here's what you need to know Now available for Android and iOS (Image credit: Australian Department of Health) Following on from the release of its official coronavirus information app, the Australian Government has now launched its voluntary CovidSafe tracking app with the goal of tracing the spread of Covid-19 more accurately. Available now for Android and iOS, the CovidSafe app works by recognising and keeping track of other devices with the app installed and Bluetooth switched on, essentially keeping a record of the people (who have also opted in) who come within 1.5 metres of you for a period of at least 15 minutes. The idea is that the app will speed up the current process of notifying people who have been in close proximity to someone with Covid-19. The CovidSafe app will take note of the "date, time, distance and duration of the contact," as stated by the Department of Health's website. If diagnosed with Covid-19, users will have the option of consenting to the release of their contact data, in turn allowing the app to get in touch with other users who have been in close proximity to the affected patient. While the app's source code has not been released at this time, Twitter developer Matthew Robbins has independently decompiled the Android app and has found it to be "above board, very transparent and follows industry standard," as reported by Ausdroid. Privacy According to the CovidSafe app's privacy policy, the Australian Government will ask for your consent to collect your mobile phone number, name, age range and postcode. The collected personal data will reportedly be encrypted and stored on your device alone and will be automatically deleted after 21 days. If you are under 16 years of age, a parent or guardian will have to consent for you. For the app to work, the site admits that some data will have to be recorded elsewhere. This includes "the encrypted user ID, date and time of contact and Bluetooth signal strength of other COVIDSafe users with which you come into contact." The policy states that a new "encrypted user ID will be created every 2 hours," however, this information "will be logged in the National COVIDSafe data store, operated by the Digital Transformation Agency, in case you need to be identified for contact tracing." The data store is described as a "cloud-based facility, using infrastructure located in Australia, which has been classified as appropriate for storage of data up to the ‘protected’ security level." As for how long your data will remain in the cloud, the Department of Health's website states that "We will delete all data in the data store after the COVID-19 pandemic has concluded as required by the Biosecurity Determination." Your data will reportedly also be deleted if you uninstall the CovidSafe from your device or if you "upload your contact data to the data store." The policy stresses that "No location data (data that could be used to track your movements) will be collected at any time." The Australian Government has also released a more thorough 78-page Privacy Impact Assessment in PDF form. Other issues and concerns For the CovidSafe app to work effectively, your device's Bluetooth will need to remain switched on at all times so that the app can continuously ping other users. Of course, this is expected to drain your phone's battery life quicker than usual. While Android devices will be able to run the CovidSafe app in the background, meaning "you can use your phone as normal without having to open or check COVIDSafe," the app FAQ stipulates that iOS devices will need to "Keep COVIDSafe running and notifications on when you're out and about, especially in meetings and public places" – a barrier which could prove a nuisance for many. That said, while the app certainly has its drawbacks, it appears to be secure and seems to take users' privacy into consideration. With this in mind, potential users will need to weigh these minor downsides against the app's proposed benefits – namely, a far more accurate way of tracing the spread of coronvirus, which should in turn help speed up Australia's return to normalcy (or something like it). Source: Australia's CovidSafe tracking app is now available – here's what you need to know (TechRadar)
  20. Google has halted plans to launch its ‘News Showcase’ product in Australia as the tech company isn’t clear if it will be viable under the nation’s draft News Media Bargaining code. The company doesn’t oppose a code, but the arbitration system outlined in the draft is “unworkable,” Mel Silva, Google’s vice president in Australia and New Zealand, said in a blog on SundayConcerns include “unfair payment conditions and unclear definitions and obligations ”Earlier, Google said it would start paying select media outlets to display curated content on its news app, earmarking more than $1b for the program over three years Source
  21. ACCC set to hand down preliminary report into digital platforms and whether they are competing fairly with traditional media Rupert Murdoch has floated the idea that Google, Facebook and Apple should pay for news content they push out in news feeds and on their own news services. A titanic struggle is taking place between some of the world’s largest corporations. In one corner is Google and Facebook. In the other is News Corporation. It’s not alone. It stands with most of the established media companies which have watched with growing horror as their advertising revenues have migrated into the coffers of the digital behemoths. Alphabet, Google’s parent, reported worldwide revenues of US$33bn in the third quarter and is on track to top US$120bn in 2018, mostly from advertising. Facebook’s revenues topped US$40bn in 2017 and have continued to grow during 2018. In just 10 years, the platforms have gone from nothing to hoovering up the majority of advertising dollars in Australia. In contrast, News Corporation and most media companies have seen their revenues draining way. It began with what used to be known as print media, but are probably now better described as news media sites. Now the conflagration has spread to free to air television, which depends on advertising for their existence. Their content is often republished on sites such as Facebook and YouTube without compensation, diverting eyeballs and diminishing their value to advertisers. According to the journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the media sector has lost about 3,000 journalist positions since the growth of digital platforms escalated about 10 years ago. The loss in the newspaper sector has been the most severe, down from 23,472 employees in 2010-11 to just 14,678 by June 2017. Some new digital jobs have been created but the impact is a net loss. The beef the media companies have is that they invest in the journalism while the digital platforms simply take their output and republish it on people’s feeds and within their own news products. It’s a complicated relationship: on the one hand the news media companies acknowledge they need Google and Facebook to reach younger audiences, who don’t read newspapers, visit websites or watch broadcast television. On the other hand, the financial benefit of their hard work is going straight to these multinationals, and now threatens their very existence. A year ago the government, after intensive lobbying from the big Australian media companies, asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate whether these multinational digital services have an unfair advantage in the market, and whether they are abusing their market power. This week we will get the preliminary view of the ACCC. Chairman Rod Sims’ approach will have far reaching effects on the Australian media in the future. It will be important globally. His views will be studied by regulators around the world, all of whom are grappling with whether and how to ensure Google, Facebook et al don’t lead to the death of important and much loved media in their local communities. Here’s some of the suggestions that have been floated. Break up Google One of the biggest complaints about Google is that it is vertically integrated and uses its businesses to keep people within the Google ecosystem. In its latest submission, News Corp Australia argues that a separate ad-free Google News site was merely a tool to drive more traffic to Google search so it could monetise its services through mining user browsing data and then targeting ads to those users. “Google makes every effort to keep the user within its own ecosystem, by including snippets of news that allow users to effectively read the key points without clicking through to the full article,” News says in its latest submission. It’s also both the gateway to the internet and news content and an “intermediator” between readers and publishers through the provision of its Google News service, News says, and it uses these dual roles to generate revenue for Google at the expense of publishers. Google disputes this and denies it misuses “snippets of news articles” so that users do not click on links of news websites. “Google has no financial incentive to prevent users from clicking on links to news articles in response to their queries on Google Search and Google News. Because advertisers decide which search queries their ads will appear against, very few of them elect to advertise against queries that relate to news information,” it says. Then there are Google businesses like Double Click. In order to obtain a reliable audience and advertising data relating to content featured, News argues publishers must pay for Google Analytics, and cannot use third party analytics software. Google says it has been working with news publishers to address changing consumer behaviour, by sharing at least 70 per cent of ad revenue when they display ads from Google, and partnering with publishers to promote quality journalism online through the Google News Initiative and Google News Lab. Fairfax Media has been part of the Google News Initiative and is generally supportive. However, it said “we see substantially less progress in commercial partnership opportunities with Facebook. It is our view that Facebook’s commercial interests are largely served by keeping users within Facebook’s environment.” Ditto some of the smaller platforms such as Snapchat. “A clear preferred pathway is for publishers and platforms to explore and implement commercial, market-based solutions to the challenges presented by the current operating environment,” Fairfax said. A carriage fee Making Google, Facebook and Apple pay for news content that they push out in news feeds and on their own news services was floated by Rupert Murdoch in a statement on News Corp’s website in January. “There has been much discussion about subscription models but I have yet to see a proposal that truly recognizes the investment in and the social value of professional journalism,” he said. “The time has come to consider a different route. If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies,” he said. Others have echoed the call for digital platforms to pay up. Foxtel says in its submission to the ACCC: “Our ability to attract subscribers and advertisers, and in turn obtain a return on our investment in content, is being seriously undermined by platforms which host our content without our permission, make it available for free to our entire potential subscriber base, and use that content to attract advertisers away from our platform.” Nine put it this way: “A fundamental issue is that there is no equitable remuneration for the use of publisher content on digital platforms, and the digital platforms are extracting advertising dollars from the engagement with that content.” Exactly how a carriage fee would work is not clear. Google has partly acknowledged that it is benefiting from the journalistic effort of others, with its Google News Initiative. An algorithm review board News and others have backed an “algorithm review board” to investigate how Google prioritises news organisations in its search results and to ensure it is acting fairly. Search engines, like Google, use algorithms to decide the order they display links to web pages in a search. This is immensely important to media companies in generating traffic to their sites. The algorithms take into account several factors including relevance, the reputation of the page and popularity to decide who to rank higher. But it is not transparent and Google regularly makes changes to the algorithm, which are also not public. News Corp has claimed that Google downgrades companies that have paywalls on their material, something Google has disputed in its submissions. (News has hard paywalls on most of its masthead sites, but none on news.com.au.) Despite often railing against additional regulation, News Corp has proposed a review board to oversee the algorithms and make sure they are fair. Free TV has set out the type of information it believes Google and Facebook should be making public such as what causes upgrades and downgrades. It also wants one month’s notice of changes to the algorithms. Google told the ACCC: “Certain comments suggest that Google does not provide enough information about how its algorithms work. These comments do not recognise that Google is constantly engaged in finding the right balance between providing transparency about how search works while playing a cat and mouse game against sites that try to ‘game’ Google’s algorithms without providing any benefit to users.” Fairer regulation in relation to advertising and content From the free to air television industry’s perspective, the key changes the industry wants to see is some balancing up of the relatively heavy-handed regulation applying to television compared with the non-existent regulation of the digital platforms. Nine Entertainment Co, which has just taken over Fairfax, calls it “regulatory disparity”. “Nine is subject to strict regulatory requirements and licence conditions, including in relation to the standard and composition of its content, while the digital platforms prefer to be characterised as “tech companies” that do not have responsibility for the content they distribute, or require media regulation,” it says. In relation to advertising, for example, television, radio and pay TV are subject to an election advertising blackout three days before an election. Digital platforms are not, with the result that political parties direct a deluge of money into Google ads in the last days of the campaign. Once upon a time that money would have gone into print – but no more. In the days before the Wentworth byelection, anyone using Google search from their computer or phone in the Wentworth electorate, or searching a story about the byelection, was bombarded by ads for the Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, or Kerryn Phelps, the independent. There are wildy different rules that apply on sensitive advertising like gambling ads. That doesn’t necessarily mean that free to air wants digital platforms to be subject to the same rules as them. They would be just as happy, perhaps, with a reduction in regulation across the board. The bigger issue of Australian content is arguably outside the scope of this ACCC inquiry, which said at the outset it was focussing on news and journalism. But it may be tempted. Most of the television networks and Foxtel have made reference to the free ride that digital streaming services such as Netflix, Stan and Amazon get under the Australian content rules. The screen industry wants the popular on-demand platforms to spend at least 10 per cent of their programming on Australian content. Currently, they have no requirement to spend on local programs, unlike the free-to-air networks which must meet local programming quotas, and pay TV, which must spend 10 per cent of its programming on local drama. Fast take-down mechanisms Another big gripe is that the digital platforms, particularly YouTube, are slow to act on requests from the networks and other copyright holders to remove material posted by users in breach of copyright. Free TV, the industry group, is arguing for a swift response mechanism when copyright is infringed. Verification of ad claims by digital platforms One of the other gripes of the existing media industry is that they are expected to make verifiable claims about the advertising reach of particular channels, publications or websites, but the digital platforms are not. The television industry funds OzTam which measures audiences. The digital platforms rely on their internal information to sell ads, which admittedly is more easily measured online. The ACCC report is expected this week. There will then be a second round of submissions before a final report comes out next year. The ACCC can potentially make orders about the structure of the industry if it considers there are serious breaches of the competition rules occurring. But issues such as Australian content rules would require legislation. Source
  22. Former FBI director Louis Freeh says launching cyber attacks back at China is the only way to stop it hacking commercial secrets Targeted cyber attacks and a strong deterrence capability are the most effective way of preventing China and other countries continuing to steal Australian commercial secrets, according to a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Louis Freeh, who ran the FBI for almost eight years until 2001, said the threat of criminal charges or jail time would do little to prevent state-sponsored hackers from continuing to steal valuable intellectual property. "It's like trying to serve a subpoena on [Osama] Bin Laden – it's not very effective," Mr Freeh said on the sidelines of a speech in Sydney on Monday night. His comments come as the federal government considers how best to respond to a surge in cyber attacks directed by China's peak security agency over the past year. An investigation by The Australian Financial Review and Nine News confirmed China's Ministry of State Security (MSS), was responsible for the recent wave of attacks on Australian companies. These formed part of what is known in cyber circles as "Operation Cloud Hopper", which was detected by Australia and its partners in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance. The attacks on Australian companies are in breach of an agreement struck between Premier Li Keqiang and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in April 2017 to not steal each other's commercial secrets. Filing criminal charges against Chinese hackers, as the US has done over the past year, is one option open to Australia, although Mr Freeh believes a formidable cyber deterrence capability is the best defence. Mr Freeh likened offensive cyber capabilities to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction during the Cold War, which he said ultimately prevented nuclear weapons being used. "All the major powers, including Australia, they know the [cyber] capacity of their adversaries," he said. "They can assess pretty accurately the capacity of their adversaries and allies and that is the single most reason why we have not seen a cyber war …. it's the same reason nobody has fired a nuclear weapon in 75 years." Mr Freeh said countries had the capability to shut down power grids, transport networks and financial systems, but had not done so as it would potentially trigger a far larger retaliatory attack. He said offensive cyber capabilities had been used after attacks in the past, but the response was proportionate. "We've seen enough attacks that have given countries the basis to retaliate and they have in many cases, but the retaliation, if you look at it from 30,000 feet, is very proportionate and very measured given the initial attack." Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged Canberra's offensive cyber capabilities in April 2016, but few other countries have followed this lead. Since that announcement the government said the capability has been used against Islamic State in the Middle East, while also revealing it has established an information warfare division with the Australian Defence Force. "Governments routinely engage in a wide spectrum of cyber operations, and researchers have identified more than 100 states with military and intelligence cyber units," Fergus Hanson and Tom Uren said in a report for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Source
  23. NSW police and crime agencies are preparing to use a new national facial recognition system to rapidly match pictures of people captured on CCTV with their driver’s licence photo, to detect criminals and identity theft. Under new laws the federal and state governments will be able to access data and photos from passports, driver licences, and visas for a national facial recognition system called the “National Facial Biometric Matching Capability” The Department of Home Affairs has been compiling the database for what is known as “The Capability". Unlike the controversial My Health Record, people can’t opt out of their details being included in the system. The NSW Government has allocated $52.6 million over four years to support The Capability. The NSW Minister for Counter-Terrorism David Elliott said it would enable authorities “to quickly identify a person of interest to help keep the community safe." The system was signed off in October last year by state and territory governments. Some now need to pass their own laws to authorise state government agencies like NSW Roads and Maritime Services to release photographs and other information to the new federal system. Half of the operation and maintenance costs will be shared by states and territories, on a population basis. There are two parts to The Capability. A Face Verification Service (FVS), which is a one-to-one image-based match of a person’s photo against a government record such as a passport. This is already operational. The second part is the Face Identification Service (FIS), which is a one-to-many, image match of an unknown person, such as a suspected criminal, against multiple government records to help establish their identity. Access to the FIS will be limited and was expected to come online this year. A Department of Home Affairs spokeswoman said the laws to allow identity matching services to be used for "identity or community protection activities" are currently the subject of a Parliamentary Joint Committee inquiry. Monash University Criminal Jurisprudence Professor Liz Campbell said in a submission to the inquiry The Capability breaches privacy rights by allowing collection, storage and sharing of personal details from innocent people who are not even suspected of an offence. "This is compounded by the possibility of non-government entities accessing the identity matching services," Professor Campbell wrote. "Research into identity matching technology indicates that ethnic minorities and women are misidentified at higher rates than the rest of the population. "[There are] significant concerns about the reliability or otherwise of its algorithms and the biases that can be inherent in them." Professor Campbell referred to a facial recognition pilot scheme in Wales that finished this year with 91 per cent of matches incorrectly identifying innocent members of the public. The Australian Capital Territory and Victoria have objected to The Capability as proposed by the federal government because they say it violates their local privacy and human rights laws. Loading NSW Minister for Counter-Terrorism David Elliott said the system will help prevent identity theft and there will be a threshold limiting its use. "People will not be charged for jaywalking just because their facial biometric information has been matched by law enforcement agencies," Mr Elliott said in state parliament. "The Government will make sure that members of the public who have a driver licence are well and truly advised that this information and capability will be introduced as part of this legislation. "I am an avid libertarian when it comes to freedom from government interference and [concerns] have been forecasted and addressed in this legislation." Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said there are no proper definitions of how the data will be used under the current bill. "Law enforcement authorities habitually push for greater access to private data and information to help them do their job and will likely call to increase The Capability to include less serious crimes and public nuisances," Mr Greenwich said. Mr Elliott said the FIS will be available only to the NSW Police, the NSW Crime Commission, the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission. "The Capability does not provide automated or real-time surveillance of public spaces," he said. "This capability will only enable more targeted searching using still images taken from closed-circuit television or surveillance, for example, to quickly identify a person of interest to help keep the community safe." NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the system has "robust privacy safeguards in mind". "Any expansion of the scheme, including to the private sector, would require the agreement of the Government," Mr Speakman said. "NSW retains an ongoing discretion to limit which agencies around the country can access NSW data, what data they can access, and for what purposes. "[In NSW] searches to identify a person for a law enforcement purpose can be conducted only for offences punishable by three years imprisonment or more. "Our first priority has to be the safety and welfare of all citizens in NSW. That means in some cases taking steps that on one view may mean a limitation on people's civil liberties, but the Government has to balance that in a measured and responsible manner against the threat to life, our persons and property were there to be a terrorist attack." Source
  24. Australia is set to give its police and intelligence agencies the power to access encrypted messages on platforms such as WhatsApp, becoming the latest country to face down privacy concerns in the name of public safety. Under the proposed powers, technology companies could be forced to help decrypt communications on popular messaging apps, or even build new functionality to help police access data. Amid protests from companies such as Facebook Inc and Google, the government and main opposition struck a deal on Dec 4 that should see the legislation passed by parliament this week. Under the proposed powers, technology companies could be forced to help decrypt communications on popular messaging apps, or even build new functionality to help police access data. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the legislation is needed to help foil terrorist attacks and organised crime. Critics say it is flawed and could undermine security across the Internet, jeopardising activities from online voting to market trading and data storage. The legislation thrusts Australia to the heart of a global tug of war between tech companies and governments over privacy and security. In 2016, the US Justice Department clashed with Apple Inc when the company refused to unlock an iPhone connected to a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The UK government, meanwhile, has been deeply critical of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption after the messaging service was used by a terrorist shortly before he killed five people in London in March 2017. The Australian government’s cybersecurity adviser Alastair MacGibbon said Dec 5 that authorities had been able to intercept telephone communications lawfully for almost 40 years, and needed new powers to keep pace with modern technology. Law enforcers have been “going blind or going deaf” because of encryption, he said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “What this law does is help codify a conversation between police and telecommunication companies, that has to be reasonable, has to be proportionate, and has to be technically feasible,” he said. The Digital Industry Group, an industry association whose members include Facebook and Google, has campaigned against the bill in a loose alliance with Amnesty International and the Human Rights Law Centre. Lobby group Digital Rights Watch said “some extremely dangerous elements” of the legislation had been addressed by the agreement between the government and the opposition Labour party. The legislation, for instance, will be subject to a review by a parliamentary committee for 12 months. And any so-called “technical capability notice” that would force tech companies to create new functionality would require stricter oversight. “But the fundamental fact remains that the powers being sought by law enforcement are ill-informed, badly drafted and a gross overreach,” Digital Rights Watch said in a statement. “This bill is still deeply flawed, and has the likely impact of weakening Australia’s overall cybersecurity, lowering confidence in e-commerce, reducing standards of safety for data storage and reducing civil right protections.” – Bloomberg Source
  25. Apple, Google and Microsoft have denounced the Australian government’s decision to pass an anti-encryption law that they claim undermines cybersecurity and human rights. The Assistance and Access Bill, passed in Australian parliament last week, allows authorities to force companies and websites to reduce encryption so that the government can increase surveillance on personal communications. Any businesses that do not comply with the law, which the Silicon Valley giants have said is “deeply flawed”, will be fined. The technology companies, which are part of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition (RGS), said in a joint statement that the law needs to change to safeguard online security and the right to privacy of citizens. “The new Australian law is deeply flawed, overly broad, and lacking in adequate independent oversight over the new authorities," the joint statement said. “RGS has consistently opposed any government action that would undermine the cybersecurity, human rights, or the right to privacy of our users – unfortunately, the Assistance and Access Bill that was just passed through the Australian Parliament will do just that.” The RGS, which also includes LinkedIn, Snap, Dropbox, Twitter and Yahoo, has urged the Australian Parliament to promptly address these flaws when it reconvenes in the new year. The new encryption law was pushed through the Australian parliament as it was deemed essential for fighting terrorism is the country and keeping national security, as it would allow authorities to snoop on the messages of criminals using Whatsapp and other communication apps. Apple first denounced the legislation in October, saying it will “weaken security for millions of law-abiding customers” so the government can investigate a few criminals. Technology companies have also raised concerns the law could set a precedent forother countries to bring in similar legislation for their citizens. Source
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