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Australian govt has a history of sharing citizens' data covertly despite laws prohibiting it

Feb 02, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

In April last year, the Australian government rejected requests from police to access data within COVIDSafe app - a contact-tracing tool similar to Singapore's TraceTogether.

In the following month, the Federal Government of Australia passed a law providing enhanced privacy safeguards for its app, expressly criminalising the use of contact-tracing data for any purpose other than contact tracing.

The Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill makes it illegal for non-health officials including law enforment agencies from accessing any of COVIDsafe data for use in criminal investigations.

Such a bill has been lauded by privacy activists. Closer to home, netizens in Singapore praised the Australian government for its focus on citizens' privacy while at the same time decrying the authority given to the Singapore police to use contact-tracing data for criminal investigations.

Workers' Party Member of Parliament (MP) Gerald Giam who has campaigned for the Singapore government to rule out use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations, asked for the relevant Ministries to follow Australia's lead.

Australian's government harrowing track record of citizens' surveillance

Despite assurances, many Australians are concerned the government isn’t providing the full story about the app, and that the potential benefits of downloading the app fail to outweigh the risks and intrusions associated with providing the state with such unprecedented access to personal information.

The distrust stems, at least in part, from the Federal Government’s appalling track record of adhering to its promises when it comes to using technology for stated purposes and of protecting the data that is accessed.

An example of failing to adhere to promises is the meta data retention laws enacted in 2015, which the Government assured would be used to ‘catch terrorists and organised criminals’ but have in fact been used for such ‘unintended’ purposes a s hunting down whistleblowers who have exposed corruption in state departments, targeting doctors and journalists who have been critical of the Government and its policies, detecting those suspected of evading tax, catching rubbish dumpers and even monitoring police cadets to determine whether they were sleeping with one another.

In just a year, over 60 governmental agencies accessed the scheme for purposes very different from ‘catching terrorists and organised criminals’, and the Australian Federal Police recently admitted accessing the metadata of Australians more than 20,000 times over a 12 month period.

As to failing to protect data, the Government assured the populace that the data stored through its My Health Record scheme (similar to Singapore's Health Hub) would be safe and secure, but as widely reported in the media it has been anything but – with dozens of data breaches being recorded within its first few months of operation alone.

Australia may have passed a law giving better privacy safeguards to protect its citizen's contact tracing data but given the Australian government's track record in citizens' surveillance, observers questioned if the new law is merely a smokescreen for increased covert surveillance.

Additional reporting by Sydney Criminal Lawyers

PSP's Tan Cheng Bock voted out as Sec-Gen after alleged party infighting

Apr 01, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

Former Republic of Singapore Air Force colonel Francis Yuen has been appointed secretary-general of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), taking over from party founder Tan Cheng Bock.

Dr Tan, 80, has become party chairman. This was announced by the PSP on Thursday (April 1), after its central executive committee (CEC) met on Wednesday.

In a Facebook post, PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai said Mr Yuen was the committee's unanimous choice to "lead PSP to the next level".

"Francis will lead and galvanise the party while (Dr Tan) concentrates on strengthening external support for PSP," he wrote.

Chairman role is basically a glorified flower pot

In many organisations around the world, the Secretary-General position has the authority to make all the decisions of running the organisation - or party. The Chairman generally does not have any more power pe se than any other voting member of the Executive Committee, except the power to run board meetings.

Comparatively, the Secretary-General is like the Chief Executive Officer of the company.

For example, the People's Action Party chairman is Gan Kim Yong while the Secretary-General is Lee Hsien Loong.

Party infighting?

The change comes amid reports of a rift in the party. An online news site, the RedWire Times, said in March that some party cadres have demanded for Dr Tan to step down as secretary-general, and allow for "more talented rising stars" to take over.

Commenting on the Redwire Times report, PSP member Kumaran Pillai said the new CEC line-up is in no way a reflection of any disagreement over the leadership of the party. Rather, Mr Yuen assuming the secretary-general role is part of a planned transition, he added.

“When Dr Tan started the party, he said he will mentor someone younger, and he hasn’t deviated from his original mission. People shouldn’t be reading too much into it.”

Mr Pillai added that he had a long dialogue with the party cadre who was quoted anonymously by Redwire Times as saying that some cadres are mustering support to demand for Dr Tan to step down from his post.

“His intention is not to stage a coup within the party. I think people have misinterpreted it and misunderstood what he said, sometimes it's like playing broken telephone, you say one thing and by the time you get to the last person, the whole story gets distorted along the way... there’s no infighting, there's no malice,” he said.

In other words, the flower pot needs watering.