Board Report: 2013 Annual General Meeting

Introduction

2013 has been a busy year for EFA, and in many ways a difficult one. It has seen growth, and difficulties due to growth, challenges and achievements.

We’ve tried to continue to contribute to policy debate across a wide range of policy areas. We’ve been assisted in this by developing closer ties with organisations with related policy interests, coordinating our policy and advocacy work.

We’ve also tried to continue to build the organisations capacity, and increase our funding base. That has increased the demands on the board, and this year led to some difficult debates internally to the board. We believe that there have been many improvements in board operation over the year.

Policy Issues

This has been another full year for policy and advocacy work. Several major law reform processes, a national election, and the impact of the Edward Snowden revelations about the scale of surveillance, all helped keep us busy on a range of policy issues.

Data Retention and Surveillance

Proposals to expand the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, at the expense of individual civil rights and a free Internet, continued to be a major focus for EFA in 2013. In 2012, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon started a review process of the operation of intelligence agency operation, telecommunications interception powers, and a potential legislative requirement for data retention by ISPs and other communications businesses. EFA was very strongly critical of this process from its inception, and EFA members made several public statement and media appearances criticising it (and, as noted in our 2012 report, EFA made a submission to the committee, and EFA board member Andrew Pam appeared before the committee). The Parliamentary Joint Committee Intelligence and Security released its report in June of 2013, and was quite critical of the data retention scheme, not ruling it out entirely but recommending a wide range of restrictions and controls. EFA was pleased when, following the release of the committee report in June, the ALP government announced that they would not be proceeding with the data retention scheme ‘at this time’, clarifying that they did not intend to proceed until after the election. However, the new government has not announced policy or plans regarding data retention, and it is likely that a data retention scheme may surface again.

Meanwhile, international revelations about surveillance, particularly via National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, have made the extent of the surveillance collected by the NSA and its partner agencies very clear. Australian agencies, such as the Australian Signals Directorate, are closely linked to the NSA (as part of the ‘Five Eyes’ group that coordinates signals intelligence collection efforts), but information about Australian involvement has so far been relatively scarce. What revelations have been made, however, have resulted in many calls for methods to reduce surveillance, for more oversight, and for methods to make ubiquitous surveillance more difficult. EFA continues to strongly oppose broad scale, warrantless surveillance, and forced data retention. We have made several media appearances discussing surveillance.

EFA has been preparing, with some cooperation with partner organisations, a public campaign against mass government surveillance, under the name ‘Citizens Not Suspects’. This campaign was begun with a focus on the data retention proposals, but has been expanded to include all government mass surveillance, and will continue to be a long term advocacy project into 2014.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

Copyright reform was another area of focus. A major review of Australian copyright law was undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission, particularly reviewing use of material under fair dealing exemptions, and whether those exemptions should be replaced with a broader, US style, set of fair use rules. EFA made a submission regarding the scope of the review, and a submission to the review itself, and worked closely with other organisations with similar goals, such as the Australian Digital Alliance. This review will be released at the end of November, and EFA is so far pleased with the progress of the inquiry, particularly discussion of the introduction of fair use provisions to Australian copyright law to replace our current fair dealing provisions.

The Federal Election

Online issues were significant during this years federal election. EFA always strives to be a non-partisan organisation that is not aligned with any particular party or politician, but obviously there are parties (and politicians) whose views and policy positions are more closely aligned with ours, and we feel that making the public aware of the policy positions during an election will raise public awareness. This year, our main election advocacy role was a ‘report card’ on party policy positions that reflect digital rights and access. We asked all major parties, and several minor ones, for their positions on a range of policy issues, such as the Internet filtering, copyright law reform, and the National Broadband Network. We received several compliments on the design, and think it was an effective advocacy tool that will probably serve as a model for future election material. We welcome feedback from members on this campaign.

The National Broadband Network

Post-election, the NBN remained a contentious issue, with extensive public debate about the new governments policy to change the plans for the NBN rollout, particularly their proposed change away from a fibre to the premises (FTTP) model. EFA helped promote a petition in favour of a strong NBN, and EFA board member Sean Rintel was involved in online debate with Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the issue.

Internet Filtering

The large scale Internet filtering policy proposed by Minister Stephen Conroy was removed as ALP policy in 2012, but a scaled back compromise remained. According to this compromise, some ISPs (it appears that some ISPs have not become part of this system) block content according to requests made under Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act. When announced by Minister Conroy, this power was to be exercised by the Australian Federal Police only to block serious child abuse material on a filter list maintained by INTERPOL. While acknowledging that this material was of a highly illegal nature, and that the narrow nature of the list, and the restricted procedure for adding material to the list was a great improvement on the original proposal (which was for a very broad list maintained in a non-transparent fashion by ACMA, a system known to be flawed and result in quite legal, sometimes innocuous, being added to the secret list), EFA still had concerns. Primarily, EFA raised the concern that once any filtering system was in place it could become a ‘slippery slope’ that could lead to it being used for broader censorship proposals that might see the range of material, and the reasons for blocking material, expanded beyond the INTERPOL list. This concern was very much proved to be correct.

Investigations into blocking of a web site maintained by the Melbourne Free University revealed that a large number of web sites on the same host provider were blocked by several (but not all) Australian ISPs, and eventually it was revealed that this was due to a Section 313 order made by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). It was eventually revealed that ASIC have been using this power to block fraudulent websites, that they bungled their use of power significantly (by requesting ISPs block an IP Address, rather than a domain name, so blocking all sites hosted at the same hosting provider), and that they were not consulting with the Minister before doing so. It was eventually revealed that an ‘unnamed agency in the Attorney-Generals department had also used the Section 313 power.

This was a significant concern. A poorly thought out policy resulted in a power that could be used by a wide range of agencies, with little centralisation, transparency, or oversight. The initial response to the Minister was highly critical of the use of the power by ASIC, and suggested it needed reform. In this case, EFA strongly agreed with the Minister - the use of such a power is unacceptable without oversight and transparency. EFA sees this issue as a very important one, and has been involved in preparing a coordinated response with other NGOs and private sector organisations. EFA had preliminary discussions with the Communications Minister, but progress on this issue was halted when the Federal election was called. Reform of use of the Section 313 power, particularly by agencies other than the Australian Federal Police, will be a priority issue for EFA in 2014.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

The TPPA is a multi-lateral treaty process that is of significant concern to EFA, and other digital rights organisations both locally and internationally. The negotiation has been an extremely secretive process, with no sharing of agreement text permitted, but what is known of the agreement indicates that there intellectual property rights mechanisms are under consideration that would restrict digital civil rights, and potentially hinder reform in Australia. Accordingly EFA is strongly critical both of the secret negotiation process, and the likely outcomes.

EFA has worked against the TPPA, including collaboration with other organisations (nationally and internationally) opposed to this agreement. EFA representatives attended several Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stakeholder consultation sessions, and made our issues with the agreement very clear. EFA Executive Officer Jon Lawrence also attended TPP negotiation sessions in New Zealand.

EFA is part of the A Fair Deal coalition. The coalition campaigns against any changes to copyright laws resulting from the TPPA, and includes organisations from several nations united in they opposition to the TPP. The campaign has so far attracted over 17,000 signatures to a statement. More information can be found at their web site http://ourfairdeal.org

Digital Economy

EFA was invited by Minister Stephen Conroy, in his capacity as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity, to provide input to the Digital Economy White Paper prepared by the Prime Ministers Department, and we did make a submission. Our submission stressed protection of Australia’s digital privacy internationally, and support for active engagement by both the Australian government, and Australian civil society, in international Internet governance fora.

Privacy

EFA has been working closely with other privacy organisations, particularly the Australian Privacy Foundation, to ensure strong policy responses on privacy issues.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has called for submissions to the first stage of its inquiry into Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era, and EFA has made a submission. EFA supported calls for legislation to protect against serious invasions of privacy. EFA will continue to follow this process through its second stage in 2014.

Along with other pro-privacy organisations, EFA supported the Telecommunications Amendment (Get a Warrant) Bill 2013 Bill proposed by Senator Scott Ludlam, but this Bill lapsed and was not presented to parliament.

EFA made a submission regarding the Privacy Amendment (Privacy Alerts) Bill 2013 bill. This bill concerned data breach notification, an area that EFA has been pushing to be addressed by legislation for some time. We had several specific criticisms of the specific bill, however. This bill passed the House of Representative, but lapsed in the Senate when parliament ended for the election.

Internet Governance and ICANN

EFA continued to participate in national and international Internet governance discussions. EFA was represented at the global Internet Governance Forum in Bali, and we found it a very valuable opportunity to make connections to other organisations involved in Internet policy, especially other civil rights based civil society organisations. This year concerns about surveillance, prompted by the revelations of Edward Snowden, were a notable part of debate. Several EFA representatives attended the Australian Internet Governance Forum (this year held in Melbourne), and were very active contributors to debate on issues such as intellectual property rights enforcement, privacy, and surveillance.

Based on current discussions, such as those prompted by the Montevideo statement made by several Internet technical organisations, EFA considers it likely that 2014 will be a crucial year for international Internet governance issues, and will work to ensure civil rights are represented in the global Internet. The open, multi-stakeholder processes that currently run the Internet need to grow if we are to present a true alternative to government lead, hierarchical control.

EFA also continued its involvement with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers), the organisation that manages critical Internet resources, including the global domain name system. I (EFA Chair David Cake) served as a member of the ICANN GNSO Council, the body that oversees global domain name policy, as part of the Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group, ensuring that free speech, privacy, and public interest issues are represented within a rapidly changing domain name system. I attended ICANN meetings in Beijing, China, and Durban, South Africa, and will attend a third meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina immediately following the EFA AGM. In addition I attended an smaller inter-sessional in Los Angeles. At the Buenos Aires meeting it is my expectation that I will be elected as one of the two Vice-Chairs of the GNSO Council.

Organisational Change

Staff and Accounting

EFA began the year with one part time staff member, our Executive Officer Jon Lawrence, but quickly gained another, our Social Media Officer, Tim Emanuelle. Tim was elected to the board in 2012, but stood down to take the social media role. Tim has worked hard to ensure EFA has an active presence of Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

Late in the year, the Board realised that, while we had been paying our staff as independent consultants, that we needed to treat them as part-time employees, and this would significantly increase the responsibilities of EFA as an employer. The board thanks Vice-Chair Marcus Wigan for this prompt action in convening an emergency meeting to ensure this was dealt with quickly when the Chair was travelling. Several board members have worked hard to make this transition, including replacing our accounting systems, obtaining insurance, ensuring we were fully complaint with superannuation, and other responsibilities of an employer. The board particularly thanks former board member Geoffry Holland for his legal advice. This was a significant project for the board, and the board will continue with efforts towards becoming a best practice employer. We consider these, and other, governance challenges as an inevitable part of the growth towards becoming a better resourced and more professional organisation.

As a result of this transition, some possible future financial changes to the organisation, and several issues with our previous accounting methods noted during the year, EFA has transitioned to using the Xero online double entry accounting system.

Sub-Committees and volunteer involvement

A major long term issue for EFA has been how to best use the many offers to volunteer we receive, while still maintaining a strong focus and well developed policy. EFA has tended to have almost all of its work performed by either staff or board members, and to become a stronger more effective advocacy organisation it needs to have a much broader base of participation. This will also enable board members to focus more on governance and oversight issues, without neglecting policy work. This year EFA began the process of expanding the active participation by establishing ongoing sub-committees, a Systems Sub-Committee to maintain our technological infrastructure, and a Policy Sub-Committee to manage our many policy submissions. We hope to continue this process of expanding the participation of our members into the next year and beyond, and ultimately have a far more involved membership and more capacity to perform our work. We hope our membership will join us in this new expansion of the way we work.

Governance issues

As members will be aware from email, this was a difficult year for the board internally, with a number of involved discussions about issues related to board governance, discussions that ultimately were not able to be resolved amicably, and made some working relationships within the board very difficult. A few weeks prior to the AGM, division within the board (related primarily to differing opinions regarding handling of consultants used by the board in 2012) resulted in a motion of no confidence in the Chair, and the resulting resignation of the Chair and Treasurer from those positions, and following the meeting the resignation of the Vice-Chair from the board entirely as a matter of probity. We thank former Vice-Chair Marcus Wigan for his service to the EFA, and are pleased that he remains a Life Member of EFA, and hope to continue to work with him. As EFA was left without a functional executive, the Secretary declared all four executive positions open for election from the board. At this election, David Cake was re-instated as Chair, and several board members who had voted for the no confidence motion resigned from the board. As a result, the board for the six weeks prior to the AGM was a smaller board, with a largely different executive, than most of the year, and we thank members for their patience and understanding, and hope that some of those who resigned from the board will continue to work with EFA in another capacity.

Despite that unfortunate resolution, there were many productive results of discussion on board governance. A number of reforms to board governance procedures have already been enacted, such as revised procedures for dealing with outside consultants, some productive discussions about (and changes to) board standing orders and working procedures, and better expenditure tracking (more closely linked to specific board authorisation of expenditure). I’d like to reassure all members that good governance of the organisation is a high priority for current board members, and we intend to keep it as a high priority for the board.

As Chair, I’d like to thank all those who served on the 2013 board. It was a difficult year, and all members made some positive contributions, and there will be some lasting improvements to board operations as a result.

Other reforms currently under discussion include governance training for board members, projects to develop documented standard procedures for various areas of board operation, and the adoption of a dispute resolution procedure. It is also planned to develop a board sub-committee (including all the board executive) to further focus on governance and risk issues.

We very much continue to welcome positive suggestions for governance improvements from the membership.

Fundraising and membership

EFA has continued efforts to grow its funding base. For EFA to continue to remain an effective voice, we need to not only to continue to pay our staff, but also to have the resources to support public campaigns.

Our most important source of funding continues to be our membership, and we have worked to increase our membership (through social media campaigns, giveaways, and other outreach methods), and to solicit additional donations from our membership and the general public, such as ongoing regular donations. These efforts to increase membership have worked — over the year to date we have 50 new standard members, 25 new concession members, and 7 new life members, overall a 24% membership increase. We’ve also focussed on increasing the membership renewal rate, which is now running at 70%.

As noted in last years annual report, EFA has also been attempting to increase the level of corporate donations it receives, as part of our effort to broaden our fundraising base. The board was careful to ensure that these efforts do not compromise our independence, either real or perceived, and that EFA does not become too reliant on donors. So, income from membership fees and donations from membership and individual supporters remain very important.

We have had some significant success at getting corporate donations. We have received several corporate donations from a range of sources, always making it clear that donations do not give the donor any say in EFA policy positions or priorities. We will continue to investigate a broad range of options for fundraising. Some donors chose to donate to general revenue for EFA, and have been gratefully accepted.

Of special note is an offer from Google Australia. In April, EFA applied for a grant from ACCAN to study the effects of the introduction of data retention legislation in Europe (specifically, the EU ‘Data Retention Directive’ of 2006), and what can be learnt from it that is applicable to potential data retention legislation in Australia. This potential research project was discussed with Google, among others. EFA was not successful in our application with ACCAN, but Google was interested in supporting the research project, and have offered EFA significant financial support. EFA would retain full control over the research project, and Google would not have any control over the direction of the research or its output. The board understand that significant financial support from Google could be problematic if it compromised EFAs independence in any way, and we intend to proceed carefully, and transparently, with handling of this project. It is the boards intention to develop a detailed proposal, including a full disclosure of the terms of the agreement with Google, and give the membership an opportunity to comment before proceeding.

Strategic planning discussions by the current board have made it clear that developing more research capacity for EFA would have a number of benefits for the organisation (and research has always explicitly been one of EFAs objectives). Not only would it increase the significance of EFAs role, and strengthen its advocacy, but it may be possible for research to open up multiple fundraising opportunities currently not available. To reap the full benefits (including the possibility of tax deductible donations for research purposes) will require some changes to EFAs legal and financial structure, and the board is in the process of obtaining pro bono legal advice to assist with the necessary changes.

Media

EFA representatives, both board and staff, appeared in the media many times in 2013. EFA representatives made appearances in most major and independent print and online Australian newspapers/news sites, radio stations (notably Radio National and Triple J Hack), and television appearances including Lateline, SBS Insight, and the 7.30 Report. EFA is increasing being asked for comment as an important organisation in Internet related public policy discussion.

This year also saw a more focussed and organised approach to social media, with the appointment of a dedicated part time staff member for social media issues. This saw a steady rise in our social media reach—since the end of 2012, over a 13% increase in twitter followers, and 23% in Facebook followers. EFA uses blogging, twitter, and Facebook as part of its online media strategy.

EFA is also proposing to hold a monthly Google Hangout On Air event with an invited speaker from the Australian or International online rights movements. These will be one hour sessions broadcast via YouTube in which the guest will speak for a brief period, EFA board members and some invited members will ask questions live, and members will be asked to submit questions to be answered.

The inaugural event will be held on December 9th and the guest will be our Senator Scott Ludlam. Senator Ludlam will speak about positive digital rights.

Conclusion

The range of policy issues that concern EFA continues to grow, and become more complex and demanding. We have tried to respond in a smart fashion where possible (particularly in cultivating closer working relationships with organisations with similar goals, such as the Australian Privacy Foundation, Australian Digital Alliance, the Australian Consumer Communications Action Network, and the Internet Society of Australia, so that we can coordinate, not duplicate, effort). And EFA is succeeding in growing its significant as a major voice in policy in Australian public debate.

But in order to continue to respond to wide range of policy challenges, EFA needs to continue to grow as an organisation, and build its capacity further, both in terms of fundraising and developing expertise and resources. Some of the demands of that growth have caused some growing pains this year, in the term of difficult board debates about changes in procedures, new funding sources, and increasing the professionalism of the organisation. EFA must continue to have those discussions, and continue to grow and improve, because the challenges it faces are more vital than ever. We believe there have been many improvements to board operation, and look forward to a renewed and strengthened EFA board for 2014.

This year, we have heard stunning revelations about the scale of government surveillance of the Internet, adding to existing concerns about private data gathering from corporations. Of course, we need to continue to work towards reform of laws covering online communications and private data. But we also need to, along with everyone who loves a free Internet where we can have privacy and free expression, work to rebuild the Internet so privacy is the default, and pervasive surveillance and invasion of privacy, be it government or corporate, legal or illegal, is no longer possible. That is a big global challenge, and EFA intends to continue to work toward it, and thanks all its members for your assistance.

Financial Reports

EFA Cash Position - FY1213 [PDF, 174KB]

EFA Accounts - FY1213 [PDF, 183 KB]