Ludlam to get busy on improving privacy, transparency

Ludlam to get busy on improving privacy, transparency

Ludlam plans to address in parliament four key areas where he thinks improvements can be made to ensure citizens personal data in will not be misused and where there needs to be greater transparency in Australia

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has laid out his focus areas for improving privacy and transparency when it comes to the use of citizens' personal data by commercial companies and government agencies.

Ludlam has been actively questioning the government about its knowledge of the PRISM surveillance program, which run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and sources data from companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft,

"There is quite a high degree of [data] sharing [between the US and Australia] and most of it is one way. The relationship between Australia and the United States is ferociously out of balance."

He said he plans to address four key areas where he thinks improvements can be made to ensure citizens' personal data in will not be misused and where there needs to be greater transparency in Australia.

The first will be "beefing up" protections for whistleblowers, he said. "That's one of the most urgent things. If the only way of extracting information from these entities is by people risking their lives and their careers then strengthening legal protections [for whistleblowers] is a place to start."

Edward Snowdon, who exposed the PRISM surveillance program, was charged by US authorities with espionage. He was hiding in Hong Kong and is now reportedly headed for Moscow.

Ludlam also believes that the Freedom of Information Act needs improvement. Ludlam believes that changes to the Act have made it harder for people to obtain information from the government.

"This is probably one of my greatest regrets. We voted for the Freedom of Information reforms assuming that they will be an improvement on where we were before.

"We have an FOI system now that is being expertly manipulated by government departments and a culture of transparency... that has simply never arrived. And instead what we've got are processes that go forever and the formal removal of police and intelligence agencies from FOI."

The third focus area is looking at updating the Privacy Act, he said.

"Privacy simply hasn't kept up," the senator said.

"The ASIO Act and TIA Act have been amended dozens of times since 9/11 and privacy reforms are just creeping along behind as a set of rather arbitrary principles and things that should be respected and reserved but of course they are not [always] being."

The fourth is looking at bringing the "state within a state back into the sunlight".

"People who do a very important and difficult job of trying to predict and prevent people from blowing up railway stations - how do we preserve the protections and the immunities they require to do that at the same time as blowing away the cloud of bullshit around it?" Ludlam said.

"Centrelink, bless them, have no role in protecting us from people blowing up railway stations."

Last week, Ludlam introduced a bill to ensure law enforcement agencies only access citizens’ private data under a warrant.

"If it's appropriate for all of these agencies to need to get a warrant to listen to your phone call or read your email, it's appropriate that they get a warrant if they want to be able to track your precise geographical location every second of the day, with all of your social networks and interactions."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a list of free alternatives to proprietary software that bypass PRISM.

PRISM protest meetings are taking place across Australia on 6 July.

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