Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Did the Australian Bureau of Statistics spy on Telstra customers at one remove in 2016?


“…with its near-complete coverage of the population, mobile device data is now seen as a feasible way to estimate temporary populations” [Australian Bureau of Statistics Demographer Andrew Howe, quoted in The Australian Bureau of Statistics Tracked People By Their Mobile Device Data at Medium, 23 April 2018]

Cryptoparty founder. Amnesty Australia 'Humanitarian Media Award' recipient 2014 and activist Asher Wolf recently reported that in 2016 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) without informing or seeking permission from mobile phone users ran a secretive, publicly-funded tracking program via signals emitted by the mobile phones of an unspecified number of people, in order to find out where they travelled over the course of an unspecified number of days and how long they stayed at each location.

A presentation of the basic details of this pilot study was made by the ABS researcher leading the pilot at a Spatial Information Day in Adelaide on 11 August 2017.

second ABS researcher also made a presentation on the day.

Spatial Information Day (which has the ABS as one of its sponsors) is characterised by the organisers as an annual educational and promotional event and was first held just on 18 years ago.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics was swift to reply to Asher Wolf's Medium article, stating that it has only been supplied with hourly agregate data by the telco (Telstra) which did not identify individuals.

Given recent less than transparent disclosures by data mining corporations concerning data collection/retention practices, readers might forgive me for waiting to see if the other shoe drops in this ABS-Telsta data mining and privacy matter.

One might say that thanks to Ms. Wolf we are all being educated further about big data and the ethics of data collection.


This is the response Ms. Wolf received when she contacted privacy experts concerning the pilot study:

“I find this tracking of people using their telephone location data without their knowledge and consent extremely concerning. The fact that the telecoms company allowed this data to be handed to a third party, and then for that third party to be a government agency compounds the breach of trust for the people whose data was involved,” said Angela Daly, Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Law, research associate in the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society and Digital Rights Watch board member.

“After the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal this is yet another example of why we need much tougher restrictions on what companies and the government can do with our data.”

Electronic Frontiers Australia board member Justin Warren also pointed out that while there are beneficial uses for this kind of information, “…the ABS should be treading much more carefully than it is. The ABS damaged its reputation with its bungled management of the 2016 Census, and with its failure to properly consult with civil society about its decision to retain names and addresses. Now we discover that the ABS is running secret tracking experiments on the population?”

“Even if the ABS’ motives are benign, this behaviour — making ethically dubious decisions without consulting the public it is experimenting on — continues to damage the once stellar reputation of the ABS.”

“This kind of population tracking has a dark history. During World War II, the US Census Bureau used this kind of tracking information to round up Japanese-Americans for internment. Census data was used extensively by Nazi Germany to target specific groups of people. The ABS should be acutely aware of these historical abuses, and the current tensions within society that mirror those earlier, dark days all too closely.”

“The ABS must work much harder to ensure that it is conducting itself with the broad support of the Australian populace. Sadly, it appears that the ABS increasingly considers itself above the mundane concerns of those outside its ivory tower. This arrogance must end.”

“For us to continue to trust the ABS with our most intimate details, the ABS must maintain society’s trust. Conducting experiments on citizens without seeming to care about our approval or consent undermines that trust.”

International privacy advocates also raised concerns about the study.

“Data the companies, like telcos, collect inevitably becomes very attractive to government agencies looking to track, monitor, and survey people. Like here, users are rarely informed, let alone consent to these uses. The impact on privacy rights is severe: location information (especially combined with other sensitive data) can reveal startlingly detailed information about your life (where you live, work), connections (who you talk to or visit), preferences (what you buy and when), and health (doctors and pharmacies frequented),” stated Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager for digital rights organisation Access Now.


As the federal govenment burns are Turnbull and Co. just tinkering at the edges of banking and finance regulations or are they seriously committed to reform?



Way back in October 2016 the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) began an Enforcement Review which examined the adequacy of legislation dealing with corporations, financial services, credit and insurance, with regard to serious contraventions in the financial sector, including fraud and criminal activity.

0n 18 December 2017 ASIC handed its Enforcement Review Report to the Turnbull Government.

It was probably no accident that four days earlier the same government ceased its sustained opposition to a highest level inquiry and created the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. 

With the extent of bank money laundering becoming an issue and the review report on its doorstep there was nowhere else to turn, given the average voter would not have been receptive to the argument that the big banks were historically a protected species because of their generous political donations.

In April 2018 in the midst Royal Commission revelations concerning a host of bank and financial system abuses the Turnbull Government finally released its response to the ASIC review report.

This response "agrees" with or gives "in principle agreement" to all 50 recommendations but has placed 20 recommendations on the backburner.

Knowing that ASIC’s investigative abilities has been crippled by funding/staff cuts, that entities with annual profits in the billions just seem to shrug off large corporate fines, often indemnify executives in relation to individual fines and are able to play the legal system so that executives rarely see the inside of a prison, on 20 April the Turnbull Government via the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services revealed that by legislative amendments it will implement the potential for larger individual and corporate fines and double potential maximum prison sentences:

The Turnbull Government is strengthening criminal and civil penalties for corporate misconduct and boosting the powers of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to protect Australian consumers from corporate and financial misconduct.

These stronger new penalties will ensure that those who do the wrong thing will receive appropriate punishment.

These reforms represent the most significant increases to the maximum civil penalties, in some instances, in more than twenty years. They bring Australia's penalties into closer alignment with leading international jurisdictions, and ensure our penalties are a credible deterrent to unacceptable misconduct.

The Government will increase and harmonise penalties for the most serious criminal offences under the Corporations Act to a maximum of:

For individuals: (i) 10 years' imprisonment; and/or (ii) the larger of $945,000 OR three times the benefits;

For corporations: (i) the larger of $9.45 million OR (ii) three times benefits OR 10% of annual turnover.

The Government will expand the range of contraventions subject to civil penalties, and also increase the maximum civil penalty amounts that can be imposed by courts, to the maximum of:

the greater of $1.05 million (for individuals, from $200,000) and $10.5 million (for corporations, from $1 million); or

three times the benefit gained or loss avoided; or

10% of the annual turnover (for corporations).

In addition, ASIC will be able to seek additional remedies to strip wrongdoers of profits illegally obtained, or losses avoided from contraventions resulting in civil penalty proceedings.

ASIC's powers will also be significantly increased through:

expanding their ability to ban individuals from performing any role in a financial services company where they are found to be unfit, improper, or incompetent;

strengthening their power to refuse, revoke or cancel financial services and credit licences where the licensee is not fit or proper; and

boosting ASIC's tools to investigate and prosecute serious offences by harmonising their search warrant powers to provide them with greater flexibility to use seized materials, and granting ASIC access to telecommunications intercept material.

The Turnbull Government is committed to ensuring ASIC is armed with greater powers to effectively deter, prosecute, and punish those who do the wrong thing, to improve community confidence and outcomes for consumers and investors in the financial services and corporate sector.

These reforms come on top of strong Government action to reform our financial services sector to better protect Australian consumers over a number of years.
The Government has already provided $127 million in additional funding to ASIC to bolster its investigative and surveillance capabilities; implemented an industry funding model for ASIC to give it secure funding; appointed a new chairman for ASIC, Mr James Shipton, and announced a new second Deputy Commissioner with an enforcement focus, Mr Daniel Crennan QC; established a new standards setting body for financial advisers; and established a new one stop shop for consumer complaints which is free for consumers, binding on financial institutions and can order compensation where appropriate.

Today's reforms to ASIC's powers and penalties follow recommendations made by the ASIC Enforcement Review Taskforce (The Taskforce). The Taskforce was established in October 2016 to fulfil the Government's commitment to review the adequacy of ASIC's enforcement regime in response to the Murray Financial System Inquiry, and provided its report to Government in December 2017.

The Government has agreed, or agreed in principle, to all 50 of the Taskforce recommendations and will prioritise the implementation of 30 of the recommendations.

The remaining 20 recommendations relate to self-reporting of breaches, industry codes and ASIC's directions powers, which will be considered alongside the final report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

The Government thanks all the members of the Taskforce, including the Panel of Experts, Treasury, ASIC, Attorney-General's Department, Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as all stakeholders who participated in the consultation of the various position papers put forward by the Taskforce.

The Government's full response to the Taskforce Report can be found on the Treasury website.


Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Repeat after me: Australia is a low-taxing country, a low-taxing country.....


“Australia is a low-taxing country. While tax debate in Australia tends to focus on tax rates, with endless comparisons of different countries’ rates of different taxes, these debates ignore the fact that Australia raises far less tax revenue than most developed countries.

This is not a problem in itself. There is no right or wrong level of taxation. However, the level of tax revenue raised inevitably affects governments’ ability to fund essential services such as health, education, social security, defence and infrastructure. Polling consistently shows that the Australian public would prefer higher levels of spending on public services than lower tax collection.” [The Australia Institute, 17 April 2018]

In two weeks time a federal government ideologically glued to cutting company tax and spending big on infrastructure on the back of ever-decreasing taxation revenue will deliver its 2018-19 Budget Papers.

So Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison will ignore polls like this one, because the only voters with influence are found in the ranks of political donors, big business and industry.

The Australia Institute, 18 April 2018:


Small government has small support - National poll

A large national poll of 1,557 Australians, released today by think tank The Australia Institute, has shown 64% of people want more public spending funded by tax revenue. Just 11% want lower taxes and less public spending.

* Two-thirds (64%) said they would prefer more public spending, funded by more tax
   revenue, and less inequality.

* Only 11% said they wanted lower public spending, lower tax and more inequality.

* A majority of voters for all parties selected the more spending and more tax option:

* 56% of both PHON voters and Other voters;
* 60% of LNP voters;
* 71% of ALP voters;
            * 75% of Green voters.


Polling Brief - April 2018 - more or less spending tax inequality.pdf

P521 Australia a low tax country.pdf

Hank Jorgen and Centrelink unleash the dogs…..


Forget establishing that an actual debt exists – this is 2018 and come hell or high water the Turnbull Government wants to use Centrelink to prop up its financial bottom line in time for the May 2018 budget papers.

BuzzFeed News, 20 April 2018:

Tony Johnson says he received a threatening phone call last month from a private debt collector looking to recover an overdue Centrelink debt. Turns out, they had the wrong Tony Johnson.

Johnson told BuzzFeed News the call was from someone identifying themselves as working for a company called Australian Receivables. The caller told Johnson he had a Centrelink debt that needed to be repaid immediately.

As it happened there were two Tony Johnsons living within the same postcode, and the caller had contacted the wrong one.

Private debt collection agency Australian Receivables has a $2.5 million contract with Centrelink as part of the government's controversial robo-debt recovery program.

As BuzzFeed News revealed last week, the third party debt collectors work on commission based on the amount they recover from Centrelink clients, not a flat rate. The more money the companies collect, the bigger their commission.

Tony Johnson claims he was called continuously by people purporting to represent Australian Receivables. He also says neighbours and family members were approached in a bid to track him down.

"It gets annoying after a while," he told BuzzFeed News.

Johnson says he contacted Australian Receivables to find out how they got his phone number, and was told it was via a company called Detective Desk.

Detective Desk is registered in the United States but operates from the Philippines. The company claims to own information about millions of Australians.

Detective Desk allows debt collection agencies to trawl data files to track and chase outstanding debts from Centrelink clients.

The Detective Desk website says it collects, holds, uses and discloses information about Australians including full names; dates of birth; driving licence numbers; gender; current and previous addresses; court judgements; employment histories; phone numbers; and any other information it says is publicly available.

The company sources and collects data from a number of third parties including search engines, social media networks, electoral rolls, insurers, law courts and direct marketing companies.

There's no guarantee the information supplied is correct, and that's how Johnson believes he became the victim of mistaken identity.

BACKGROUND

The Canberra Times, 9 June 2017:

Centrelink's controversial robo-debt program has been blamed for a huge surge in legal challenges by people facing the welfare agency's demands for money.

Centrelink debt cases at the federal appeals tribunal have soared by more than 50 per cent since mid-2016 and The Greens have laid the blame for the surge, which might take years to work its way through the system, squarely at the feet of robo-debt.

For more examples go to  
https://twitter.com/not_my_debt 
or 
https://www.notmydebt.com.au/stories/notmydebt-stories

Monday, 23 April 2018

Away from the spotlight of congressional hearings Zuckerberg and Facebook Inc. show their true colours – implementing weaker privacy protection for 1.5 billion users


The Guardian, 19 April 2018:

Facebook has moved more than 1.5 billion users out of reach of European privacy law, despite a promise from Mark Zuckerberg to apply the “spirit” of the legislation globally.

In a tweak to its terms and conditions, Facebook is shifting the responsibility for all users outside the US, Canada and the EU from its international HQ in Ireland to its main offices in California. It means that those users will now be on a site governed by US law rather than Irish law.

The move is due to come into effect shortly before General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in Europe on 25 May. Facebook is liable under GDPR for fines of up to 4% of its global turnover – around $1.6bn – if it breaks the new data protection rules.

The shift highlights the cautious phrasing Facebook has applied to its promises around GDPR. Earlier this month, when asked whether his company would promise GDPR protections to its users worldwide, Zuckerberg demurred. “We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” he said.
A week later, during his hearings in front of the US Congress, Zuckerberg was again asked if he would promise that GDPR’s protections would apply to all Facebook users. His answer was affirmative – but only referred to GDPR “controls”, rather than “protections”. Worldwide, Facebook has rolled out a suite of tools to let users exercise their rights under GDPR, such as downloading and deleting data, and the company’s new consent-gathering controls are similarly universal.

Facebook told Reuters “we apply the same privacy protections everywhere, regardless of whether your agreement is with Facebook Inc or Facebook Ireland”. It said the change was only carried out “because EU law requires specific language” in mandated privacy notices, which US law does not.

In a statement to the Guardian, it added: “We have been clear that we are offering everyone who uses Facebook the same privacy protections, controls and settings, no matter where they live. These updates do not change that.”

Privacy researcher Lukasz Olejnik disagreed, noting that the change carried large ramifications for the affected users. “Moving around one and a half billion users into other jurisdictions is not a simple copy-and-paste exercise,” he said.

“This is a major and unprecedented change in the data privacy landscape. The change will amount to the reduction of privacy guarantees and the rights of users, with a number of ramifications, notably for consent requirements. Users will clearly lose some existing rights, as US standards are lower than those in Europe.

“Data protection authorities from the countries of the affected users, such as New Zealand and Australia, may want to reassess this situation and analyse the situation. 

Even if their data privacy regulators are less rapid than those in Europe, this event is giving them a chance to act. Although it is unclear how active they will choose to be, the global privacy regulation landscape is changing, with countries in the world refining their approach. Europe is clearly on the forefront of this competition, but we should expect other countries to eventually catch up.” [my yellow highlighting]

NOTE:

The Australian Dept. of Human Services still continues to invite those who use its welfare services to visit its five Facebook pages on which it will:


* post about payments and services 

* answer questions 
* give useful tips 
* share news, and 
* give updates on relevant issue

All associated data (including questions and answers) will of course be captured by Facebook, then collated, transferred, stored overseas, monetised and possibly 'weaponised' during the next election campaign cycle which occurs in the area visitors to these pages live.