Board Report: 2012 Annual General Meeting

Introduction

It has been a busy year for EFA, but all the years seem to be busy lately - there seem to be always be new proposals to remove our civil rights, reduce our freedom online, control and regulate the Internet, and attack our privacy. This year we’ve seen many attacks on privacy and civil rights, internationally via treaties and increased demands for Internet regulation, and national issues such as the Cybercrime legislation and the National Security Inquiry proposals. Luckily some opportunities to advocate for stronger laws and increased freedom also come along, such as the chance we have to advocate copyright reform via the Australian Law Reform Commission Review, but taking advantage of them can also be hard work.

But EFA is in it for the long haul, so in addition to reacting to the many issues that this year has thrown at us, we’ve also been working steadily to strengthen the organisation, increasing our capacity to raise funds and to work with our volunteers, and building links to allied organisations for more effective lobbying. The EFA volunteer board is spread fairly thin, and the organisation needs to grow and strengthen if we are to effectively respond to the wide range of issues we need to deal with currently.

Organisational Changes

We have had some important internal changes at EFA. Jon Lawrence was co-opted as a volunteer board member last year, but quickly realised that many of the changes we needed to make to our infrastructure and operations would take more effort than he felt was able to be devote as a volunteer board member. He proposed that he step down as a board member, and become a contracted part-time employee, and his proposal was accepted by the board. Jon therefore resigned as an elected voting member of the EFA board in March 2012, but rejoined in an ex officio non-voting capacity. On behalf of the board, I’d like to thank Jon for taking this initiative, and express our gratitude for the work he has performed as our Executive Officer this year. Largely as a result of his efforts, we have been able to significantly replace and update our systems for dealing with memberships, communicating with members, and coordinating board work and maintaining relationships with other organisations.

We’ve also co-opted a couple of new board members during the year. Dr Sean Rintel is a journalism academic at the University of Queensland and social media expert, and Dr Geoffry Holland, a legal academic from the University of Technology, Sydney, with expertise in a number of areas directly relevant to EFAs work.

In the upcoming elections, two long standing board members are choosing to step down from the EFA board. Kim Heitman was a founding board member, and has served on the board many times, and we will be sad to see his wealth of knowledge go. Kim has also served as EFA representative on .au Domain Administration Limited (auDA), the organisation that administers the .au domain name, since its formation, and is stepping down from that role as well. Former EFA Chair Colin Jacobs is also stepping down from the board to concentrate on his work with The Greens. We thank both sincerely for their huge contributions in their time as board members, wish them very well in future endeavours, and hope that we will find many opportunities to work with them in the future, as we know both have plans to continue to work towards related causes through other means.

EFA has put significant efforts into building our membership base, and improving our communication with current members, this year. This has included implementing the CiviCRM system, a system used to maintain relationships with members and supporters by many civil society organisations, a member survey, upgrades to our web site, and regular newsletters.

We have an active campaign to contact lapsed members and encourage renewal, campaigns for new members, and a number of campaigns to increase the financial support we receive from existing members. We are always very keen to hear suggestions from our members as to what you would like to see from us, and feedback on our current campaigns.

As part of our drive to increase the resources available to us, we have also been slowly and cautiously working on a campaign to increase our levels of corporate donations. We are keenly aware that EFA must not allow itself to become dependent on corporate donations if it is to retain its policy dependance (which is why we are also working towards sustainable income levels from memberships and individual donations), and that EFA must retain full policy independence. However we are however also very aware that many of the policy positions that EFA holds also enjoy support within the corporate world (in particular, some ISPs are very supportive of free expression concerns), and believe that this has the potential to build EFA into a significantly stronger organisation without compromising our commitment to our policy goals. The board is interested in member feedback on this issue.

Policy Issues

This has been a very busy year for policy work, particularly with the National Security Inquiry. We’ve dealt with a wide range of issues over the course of year, some new, some ongoing.

National Security Inquiry

The single biggest policy issue for this year is the National Security Inquiry. The Attorney General’s Department has proposed a large number of reforms to the legal powers governing the security agencies (primarily ASIO, but including the police services), many of them significantly increasing their powers, to be the subject of an inquiry by the Federal Parliaments Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The discussion paper released by the department was a long, complex document, containing a large number of proposals, but despite running to 61 pages, some of the most controversial proposals were buried within it with little minimal discussion, most notably a proposal for long term retention of data relating to all forms of communication, including Internet services, which warranted only a single sentence of discussion.

But that was only one of a significant number of proposals that together amounted to a significant reduction in the privacy and civil liberties of Australians, and a increased powers and reduced oversight for security agencies. Proposals such as allowing ASIO agents to perform criminal activities, forcing users of encryption to give up passwords, monitoring of social media services, giving ASIO powers to destroy or plant information on computers of those only associated with a suspect, and a significant reduction in the oversight of surveillance warrants were all included. This big wish list of increased security agency powers was introduced with an unacceptably short public comment period, and quickly became the highest priority for many of Australia’s civil liberties organisations and activists. EFA responded to the public comment period, in collaboration with other organisations (made necessary by the short time to respond and the very wide range of proposals in the discussion paper) such as the Internet Society of Australia and the Australian Privacy Foundation. We also appeared before the committee at public hearings, with EFA board member Andrew Pam appearing before the committee in September. A video warning about the proposals was produced in collaboration between EFA and GetUp!, and an accompanying petition to be presented to the Attorney General, Nicola Roxon. The video was entitled ‘Protect Us but Respect Us’.

We are continuing to campaign on this issue, and it continues to be a high priority for EFA. We continue to collaborate with other organisations that oppose these changes.

You can read EFA’s submission to the Inquiry here:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=pjcis/nsl2012/subs/sub121.pdf

See also the Australian Parliamentary Library’s recent overview document on the issue, which quotes the EFA submission extensively:
http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/library/prspub/1998792/upload_binary/1998792.pdf

Radio National’s Background Briefing did an excellent recent piece on the issue, which includes comments from Jon Lawrence as well as a rare interview with the Director-General of ASIO, available here:
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/2012-10-21/4316150

Internet Filter

Through most of the 2012, the Internet filter proposal, a major policy priority of EFA for several years, continued to be official ALP policy, though there was very little danger that any legislation would pass through Federal parliament during the Gillard minority government (due to lack of parliamentary support outside the ALP). Last week, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced that a legislatively enforced broad Internet filter would no longer be sought, effectively abandoning the policy. EFA welcomed the news, and we believe this effectively represents victory for the campaign against the filter.

A far more limited filter scheme was voluntarily accepted by some major ISPs, restricted only to a few hundred child sexual abuse sites on a list compiled by Interpol, took its place. EFA still believes that filtering schemes represent bad public policy, as they restrict access only for those unable to circumvent them (fairly trivially for the Interpol scheme), and have a number of potential problems (including the danger that, once put in place, there will be calls to expand the filter beyond its initial purpose). But the restricted filter scheme, without legislative enforcement, represents a far smaller threat to civil liberties than the previous ALP policy.

We believe this is a significant victory for the Open Internet campaign lead by EFA, and EFA members and supporters should welcome it. Many EFA members and supporters contributed a great deal to this campaign. I’d personally like to take the opportunity to particularly acknowledge the efforts of the EFA Chair and Vice-Chair at the height of the filter campaign (including the 2010 Federal election campaign), departing board member Colin Jacobs and previous board member Geordie Guy, who both contributed significantly to this effort.

Cybercrime Bill

In August the Senate passed the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, a bill designed to implement the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. EFA has been opposing this convention, and its ratification and implementation by Australia, since 2001. We were disappointed to see it pass, both on general principles, and because the Bill was, in our opinion, a poorly drafted piece of legislation that goes well beyond the changes necessary for that convention. EFAs submission to the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety Enquiry last year recommended that the Bill be rejected in its current form, and while amendments were made by that committee, we feel that they did not go far enough in restricting the scope of the Bill to the original Convention or protecting the rights of Australians. In particular, the Bill significantly expanded the scope of many computer crime provisions.

Copyright

The Australian Law Reform Commission is in the process of a major review of Australian Copyright Law. The process has so far settled the terms of reference of the enquiry, and is currently open for submissions. EFA was pleased with the outcome of the process to determine the terms of reference, and made a public statement welcoming the inclusion of fair use. EFA is currently preparing its response to the enquiry.

EFA has actively participated in round table talks with a variety of organisations (including Australian Digital Alliance, Policy Australia, the Internet Society of Australia, and companies such as Google) to discuss possibilities for coordinating responses to the review. EFA is one of a range of organisations that is in favour of changes to our current fair dealing provisions in the Copyright act to more closely resemble the broader fair use provisions enjoyed by some other legal jurisdictions (such as the USA). EFA believes that a wide-ranging and flexible fair use approach to copyright will provide significant benefits to consumers, entrepreneurs and the education sector and will create a balanced and technology-neutral legal framework that will promote innovation and job creation across a range of industries and go a long way towards future-proofing the Copyright Act. As a member organisation of ACCAN, EFA welcomed its position paper on copyright.

R18+ Games

EFA was pleased that legislation to create an R18+ category for computer games passed through Federal Parliament this year. Access to adult games by Australian adults has been a long term policy goal of EFA, and continues to be so. There are still some issues to be addressed, as the classification guidelines still treats games more restrictively than equivalent film scenes, and there are continuing advocacy efforts from lobbying groups opposed to the changes to make the R18+ games category more restrictive, but this is a significant step forward. We will continue to advocate for the right of Australian adults to access games designed for adults.

User Workshops

EFA supported a privacy workshop run by former EFA Vice-Chair Sarah Stokely in Melbourne in January, designed to provide guidance on Internet security for activists. More recently, as a response to the National Security Legislation and other threats to privacy, the CryptoParty movement was founded by a Melbourne based activist and quickly went global. Cryptoparties are workshops on cryptography based security and privacy tools for activists and the general public. EFA has supported this movement, and will continue to do so, as we believe that training and promotion of legal technologies to increase privacy is vital.

‘Sexting’

EFA submitted a response to the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into ‘sexting’ (“creating, sharing, sending or posting of sexually explicit messages or images via the internet, mobile phones or other electronic devices by people, especially young people”), arguing that legal prosecution was often not an appropriate response, that flexible legal response based on the situation was vital, and that education needed to be a key part of a strategy.

Trans-Pacific Partnership and other treaties

EFA has been active in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multi-lateral trade treaty, negotiated largely in secrecy, that global digital freedom activists feel in its current form contains some very bad ideas. In the guise of anti-piracy and counterfeiting, it contains proposed rules that would strengthen copyright owners controls, interfere with free trade, expert many undesirable features of US copyright law, and propose a number of intellectual property enforcement mechanisms.

EFA has attended TPP public consultation sessions and expressed our opposition directly to officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, made public statements in opposition, and has sent a formal submission to the Department. EFA has also been part of international cooperative efforts in opposition, including becoming part of the StopTheTrap.net coalition. EFA has been pleased to see growing opposition to the TPP, and to the controversial ACTA treaty, and continues to oppose all similar attempts to renegotiate intellectual property law via secretive international agreement. EFA Executive Officer Jon Lawrence has managed to secure travel funding from international civil society groups to attend the next round of TPP negotiations, to be held in Auckland, in early December.

Data Breach Notification

Another policy issue is data breach notification. When data breaches occur, it is important that those effected are notified of the resulting risks to their privacy, but there is limited incentive for organisations (government or commercial or otherwise) to do so without legislation, especially as many regard it as a public image problem that they do not wish to make public. Without data breach notification laws and regulations, many organisations will fail to inform the public when their privacy is endangered. EFA is committed to continued advocacy on this important issue.

The Federal Attorney-General has recently issued a discussion paper on this issue, which is a long-overdue response to an Australian Law Reform Commission recommendation from some years ago. EFA is drafting a submission to the department on this issue now.

Collaboration and Conferences

EFA is making concerted efforts this year to build working relationships with other organisations with related goals, both nationally and internationally, and to build awareness of its role and efforts both within the world of Internet governance, and with the general population.

EFA board members represented EFA this year at the Austalian Digital Alliances Copyright Forum, at the ACCAN Annual Conference, and the inaugural Australian Internet Governance Forum. Besides participating in the round table talks to discuss the ALRC Copyright Enquiry, EFA also (again with Google and ISOC-AU and others) participated in talks to coordinate responses to the ITU WCIT negotiations that will take place in Dubai in December, and other international issues. We also collaborated with other organisations in formulating our response to issues such as the National Security Inquiry.

We are pleased to announce that EFA Vice-Chair and life member Marcus Wigan, and EFA life member Nigel Waters, have been elected to the board of ACCAN (the peak consumer body for the telecommunications sector in Australia). EFA is a member organisation of ACCAN, and we look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with ACCAN on a range of issues.

Our Executive Officer, Jon Lawrence, was also recently elected to the Board of the Internet Society of Australia. Though this position is in his personal capacity, it has already led to significantly increased cooperation between the two organisations, on issues of mutual interest.

Media

An important part of the EFAs advocacy role is to participate in public policy debate, not just through official channels such as working with government and formal policy processes, but also public debate in the media. EFA board members have appeared on ABC Radio National, on ABC Local Radio in Canberra, Tasmania and Sydney, Triple J, SBS Radio, 3RRR, 6RTR, and SYN FM, and on television on ABC News, ABC New24 and Channel 10. Comments from EFA have appeared regularly in Australia’s leading newspapers including the Australian, the Age, the Canberra Times and the Sydney Morning Herald. We’ve also appeared in online media including Delimiter AU, Crikey and The Register.

EFA board members also made presentations in person to a variety of organisations such as the Queensland Civil Liberties Council and the Australian Web Industry Association, and have spoken on panels at a variety of events, from technical security conferences (Ruxcon), to science fiction conventions (Continuum in Melbourne, and Swancon in Perth).

And of course EFA has been actively promoting ourselves and online, and involved in the discussion in social media. We are actively using services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus to promote online civil liberties and EFA. We have grown our Twitter followers (@efa_oz) to over 5,000, and have over 11,500 followers of the Open Internet Facebook Page, and over 1,900 followers of the EFA Facebook page.

ICANN and Internet governance

EFA continued its active involvement in international Internet governance in 2012. EFA Chair David Cake continued to represent EFA at meetings of the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit corporation that oversees the domain name system and IP number allocation. Due to the resignation of the previous Chair, David served as the Interim Chair of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC), where the majority of civil society organisations operate within ICANN, for its 44th and 45th meetings in Prague and Toronto.

David has now been elected to the GNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organisation) Council, where he will help determine policies for the global domain name system. There have been many issues where privacy, free expression, and intellectual property enforcement have been threatened this year, and this area continues to be extremely active area of debate, as ICANN’s plan for hundreds of new domain names proceeds.

While EFA representatives were not able to be present at either the Internet Governance Forum in Azerbaijan, or at the Regional Internet Governance Forum in Japan, we supported and attended the inaugural Australian Internet Governance Forum, held in Canberra in 2012 and will continue to support the IGF process, and intend to increase our involvement in 2013.

Summary

2012 has been a very busy year for EFA, and we anticipate that there will be a great deal more to be done in the future. We’ve worked hard at capacity building and strengthening the organisation, and will continue to do so. We’ve worked on policy issues at state, national and international levels, and over a very broad range of policy areas, including copyright, privacy, telecommunications interception, domain names, encryption, data retention, access to media, and more.

There are a very wide range of threats to online privacy, free expression, and civil rights. EFA will continue to fight them as long as you, our members, are able to support us to do so. We thank you very much for your membership and support so far, and hope for your continued support in 2013 and beyond.

David Cake
EFA Chair