Board Report: 2001 Annual General Meeting

"For every prohibition you create you also create an underground."
- Jello Biafra

This AGM is held in perhaps the most adverse circumstances EFA has faced - the seizure of surveillance powers by Governments worldwide under the pretext of combating terrorism has been swift and ruthless. In a few weeks, long-held civil liberties restraints on State surveillance have been swept away as the United States debated the PATRIOT Bill, and member States of the European Union adopted the CyberCrime convention and new restrictions on freedom of expression. In Australia, Parliament discussed without dissenting debate the CyberCrime bill and legislation granting new powers to ASIO and police to intercept communications has been under regular review.

In times of war, dissent is unpopular. However, it is no less needed as a brake on the tyranny of prejudice and anti-democratic tendencies than during times of peace. It is a measure of the maturity of a political system whether it permits opposing viewpoints, whether that is the right to oppose a war or the right to oppose censorship of ideas.

As EFA said in its statement on the September 11 terrorist attacks: "Essential freedoms, once lost, are never regained. If we allow our leaders to move us ever closer to the totalitarian surveillance society foreseen by Orwell, we lower human dignity and respect for humanity to the same level as those who seek to destroy civilisation."

EFA has met the challenge of "interesting times" and has continued to campaign strongly for the principles set forth in its Charter. It remains a critic of Government and private censorship, and declines to accept political spin as a reason to cast aside our liberties. While both Labor and the Coalition seem to be determined to impose censorship on the Net, and to treat hackers as terrorists, EFA will continue to lobby the major and minor parties to adopt policies favourable to freedom of expression and criminal laws appropriate to the online environment.

Censorship

During the current year, EFA lodged a submission in response to The Office of Film and Literature Classification's Review of Classification (censorship) Guidelines for Films, Videos, Internet Content and Computer Games and has continued to press for full disclosure of Internet censorship in this country. EFA's appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal concerning an FOI request made to the Australian Broadcasting Authority was heard this year, though a judgement is yet to be handed down.

EFA prepared an analysis of the ABA Report on the second six months of operation of the Internet regulatory scheme. The analysis revealed a regime that is both ineffective and unaccountable, and that politicians and public servants had deliberately inflated the number and nature of the complaints received in order to hide how dismally ineffective the scheme has been. EFA will continue to monitor the Federal Net censorship scheme and to insist that it be made more transparent and accountable to Parliament and the public. It is noted that the ABA report for the 6 months concluding June, 2001, has not been released notwithstanding a Senate motion requiring monitoring of the scheme by Parliament.

EFA has prepared a comprehensive analysis of the Net censorship legislation proposed by the South Australian government and lodged a submission to the subsequent SA Parliamentary Committee inquiry. We understand that the Committee has recommended only cosmetic changes to a bad Bill. More recently, New South Wales has announced an intention to bring in similar Net censorship laws notwithstanding the furore caused when Jeff Shaw tried to do the same in 1996. EFA will continue campaigning against these two Bills, and will monitor the situation in other States and Territories.

Privacy

EFA has made Privacy a high profile issue this year, especially since the new Act takes affect next month. While certain amendments to the guidelines issued by the Privacy Commissioner were discussed, EFA remains of the view that the Privacy Act is fundamentally flawed and would entrench privacy abuses. During the year, EFA participated in two important Privacy Reference groups convened by the Federal Privacy Commissioner, provided speakers for the IBC Privacy Conference and the Btell Privacy for Marketers conference on the topic of online privacy issues and released an Open Letter to the Federal Privacy Commissioner regarding revised (non-public) draft National Privacy Principle Guidelines. EFA continues to host a privacy advocates' mailing list and will seek greater acknowledgement by Government and the private sector of the dangers of abuse of privacy online.

Computer Crimes

This year saw greater concern over so-called "CyberCrime", with State and Federal politicians scrambling to criminalise online hacking tools and introducing a raft of new laws. As is often the case with cyber-law, the new laws added little to the ability of police to prosecute offenders, but caught many innocent activities through poor draughtsmanship. EFA lodged a submission and presented verbal testimony to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee Inquiry into the Provisions of the Cybercrime Bill 2001 in July, and it is noted with regret that few changes were recommended by the majority report.

EFA presented a paper at the UNSW Continuing Legal Education seminar on eSecurity/eCrime on the topic of the CoE Convention and implications for Australia in July, and EFA Board members have commented on a number of Cybercrime issues in conferences throughout the year.

EFA lodged a submission, and was invited to present verbal testimony, to the Inquiry of the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee into the provisions of the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001, which Inquiry eventually agreed with the Government. EFA remains concerned that the Internet Gambling laws are unworkable and discriminate against Australian gamers and gamblers, and will continue to seek a more sensible solution to the real issues of gambling online.

Of major concern is a trend towards regulatory agencies seeing ISPs as an easy source of data and evidence, sweeping aside a long tradition of privacy in telecommunications. Agencies such as the Tax Office, the National Crimes Authority and ASIC seek for ISPs to act as interception points for investigations, and to effectively store confidential client data on the basis that it may be needed by an agency at some stage in the future. EFA lodged a submission to the Inquiry into The Law Enforcement Implications of New Technology being conducted by the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority.

Domain Names

EFA board members attended the ICANN meetings in Melbourne and hosted meetings of the Civil Society Internet Forum (CSIF), an international body established to lobby ICANN to ensure that civil liberties of Internet users are protected in any decisions made.

EFA lodged a aubmission to the auDA Names Policy Advisory Panel and a submission to the auDA Competition Model Advisory Panel who were considering what changes should be made to existing policy in relation to domain name registration and management in the .au ccTLD. EFA was re-elected to the auDA Board following last year's AGM, and will continue to represent non-commercial interests and lobby for equality of access to the domain name space in Australia.

EFA Board Code of Conduct

As members would be aware, earlier this year controversy erupted over an EFA Board member acting in a professional capacity for a litigant attempting to silence dissenting opinion. Our members and supporters expected that EFA would avoid both perceptions of and actual instances of conflict of interest, and accordingly the Board developed a Code of Conduct, which is up for vote at this year's Annual General Meeting. Conflicts of interest are a particular concern for any online group, since the incoming flow of email can make it difficult for conflicted members to declare a potential conflict of interest and to absent themselves from discussion on that issue.

The EFA Board has decided to put to the members' vote a detailed Code of Conduct EFA Board members so as to minimise the potential for and the consequences of a real or perceived conflict of interest. Equally, both existing and incoming Board members the Board has agreed to abide by documented guidelines so that the public may be confident that EFA may be safely approached to give expert and impartial advice on any matter within its charter.

Acknowledgements

It is with much pleasure that I welcome new Board members Roger Clarke, Nick Ellsmore, Richard Rannard and Craig Small. The volunteer work of EFA is challenging but rewarding, and we look forward to an increased range of activities this year. With my continuing colleagues Greg Taylor, Danny Yee and Dale Clapperton, I am confident that EFA will be ready to face new challenges in a professional manner and with enhanced authority and expertise.

Many thanks to our members and donors for their continuing support. EFA relies entirely on membership fees and donations for its income, and is in a sound financial position heading into the next year. This year, we have changed our hosting arrangements and I would like to thank iiNet Limited for its past hosting and technical support, and to thank Kevin Littlejohn /Obsidian Consulting Group and Vic Cinc/Host1 (a division of Connect Infobahn Australia) for volunteering to henceforth host EFA's mailing lists and domain/web site respectively.

Finally, I would like to thank Irene Graham, EFA's Executive Director, for her dedicated work throughout the year. Irene has worked consistently on EFA's campaigns, especially in relation to dealings with Government agencies, and the higher profile for EFA's activities has been a consequence of her efforts since becoming Executive Director in May 2000. While EFA cannot match the resources of private industry and Government, Irene has brought greater professionalism and discipline to EFA's work and our commentary, submissions and relations with other groups have been of a high standard.

On behalf of the Board

Kimberley Heitman, B.Juris, Llb, AACS
Chair, Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc
19 November 2001