Voters should hold the major political parties to account on digital rights and remember the recent litany of tech failures when heading to the polls, Digital Rights Watch chair Tim Singleton Norton said.
Digital Rights Watch has produced a ranking of political parties in terms of tech and digital rights issues, based on four key themes: protecting privacy, supporting encryption, copyright reform and ethical government data uses.
They are split into separate, more specific policies, with each party ranked from one to three in terms of no support, conditional support and full support respectively.
The ranking is a collation of official responses to a Digital Rights Watch survey, publicly available comments and voting patterns on relevant legislation. Only the Labor Party, Greens and Liberal Democrats responded to the survey questions.
Some of the policies in question include metadata retention, facial recognition, privacy law reforms, copyright safe harbour and fair use, My Health Record, robo-debt and global privacy principles.
Both of the major parties fared poorly on the tech and digital rights scorecard.
The incumbent government scored the lowest rank across every issue and policy due to its efforts across metadata retention, facial recognition, an opt-out My Health Record, robo-debt and Privacy Act exemptions.
The Labor Party scored somewhat better, with conditional support for encryption due to its pledge to amend the Access and Assistance Bill and support for encryption in general. It was also ranked as having conditional support for most ethical use of government data issues.
But the Opposition scored only one for privacy and copyright issues, due to its support for legislation including metadata retention and internet filters, and opposition to copyright reforms like safe harbour and fair use.
Labor’s response to the survey offered support for digital rights, Mr Singleton Norton said, but this was in stark contrast to the party’s recent support for metadata retention, the encryption bill and social media laws.
“We got strong responses from Labor that directly answered the questions. But it comes down to each individual piece of legislation. They support the concept of privacy as written in policy, but if we go back and go through the votes it’s exactly the opposite. We tried to mix the actual policies and the reality of how people would govern if given the power to do so,” Mr Singleton Norton told InnovationAus.com.
“We did give Labor a bit of credit for the promised amendments to the encryption bill. That whole process was a bit of a debacle politically speaking but they have given strong commitments that they actually will do it in the next term of government. We give them credit but will hold them to account.”
The Greens and the Pirate Party scored highest out of all the parties, with a three in every category, offering full support for online privacy, encryption, copyright reform and the ethical use of government data.
The Liberal Democrats also scored highly, while One Nation received the lowest score possible.
These issues are now in the mainstream and directly impacting the lives of the general public, Mr Singleton Norton said.
“Flash points recently like the encryption bill, metadata, census and robodebt, translate the policies into real-world applications in a way that people will finally get. When we first started it was very hard to communicate the true reality of what these policies would create on the ground,” he said.
“Now we’ve got a few of these examples, very bad examples, and people are starting to see that reality. When you’re targeted by an incorrect algorithm and are being served a debt collection notice you then have to spend hours and hours fighting, that becomes real.”
It’s important that the impact of these tech-focused policies on the general public is considered, and voters take it into account at the election, he said.
“We are pushing for a rights-based agenda, we do believe we should have digital rights and a right to be able to see what’s happening within government agencies and private companies. But for the person on the street, we’re trying to make sure that the base level of all this technology doesn’t cause much bigger and more widespread disparities,” Mr Singleton Norton said.
“Technology will only become more of a part of our lives and embedded in the way we live. We will be more and more dependent on it. We need governance structures that manage that so that computers don’t make every decision about our lives.”
There has been little focus on digital rights and technology in general during the election campaign, and Mr Singleton Norton isn’t holding out hope that this will change during the final three weeks.
“I’m not in any way thinking we’ll have a huge digital rights focus in the election, that would be naive to assume. We want to make sure we have a push on making it clear to people that it does and it will have an impact on a range of policies, and to remind everyone of the examples of what’s already happened,” he said.