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

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This commentator thinks MCI ad should not have featured poor Malays

May 12, 2022 | 🚀 Fathership
A Hari Raya advertisement by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) was 'cancelled' by certain netizens online for depicting lower income Malays according to reality.

"Message for Syawal", a two-and-a-half-minute video published last month (Apr 30) captures moments in the life of a low-income Malay family living in a rental flat.


Pictured: Screenshot from MCI video "Message for Syawal"

The video, which is peppered with Malay proverbs, shows the family moving out of their rental flat to a new home several years later where they celebrate Hari Raya.

The father of the family works as a mover while the mother is a housewife.

Their young son, Syawal, skips school to earn extra income for his family before a teacher flags his absence from school to his parents.

The mother in the video later decides to return to work to alleviate her family’s financial difficulties while the father gets a new job.

Pictured: Screenshot from MCI video "Message for Syawal"

Why some netizens are outraged

The video sparked backlash online, with some viewers saying that it contained stereotypes about the Malay community.

The stereotypes:
  • The father works as a mover - commonly perceived to be a low-income job
  • The mother is jobless
  • The son plays truant
  • The family lives in a rental flat for low-income earners

Commentator implied that poor Malays shouldn't be portrayed in public to prevent stereotypes

Pictured: Screenshot from Homeground Asia video

A video commentary by The Homeground Asia went further by criticizing how the video propagates the narrative that Malays are poor and lazy, and that the ministry should have created a video that is more relatable to both the less fortunate and the more affluent Malays.

Adi Rahman, one of the interviewees in the video went further by making sweeping assumptions that the ministry lacked cultural intelligence and did not consult the community on the narrative.

Ironically, in talking about inclusivity, Adi implied that the realities of poor Malays should not be shown in public.

For example, his rationale suggested that the video contained characters (the mover, jobless mother and the son who skips school) that contribute to the problem of other races seeing the Malays in a stereotypical and reductive light.

In other words, show the good stuff but not the reality.

Adi even accused the ministry for not consulting the Malays in the vetting of the video narrative.

His accusations were without merit, however, when the Ministry said in a statement (Apr 30) that Malay-Muslim viewers - presumably a focus group - had seen the video prior to its release, and perceived the story to be heart-warming, although some expressed reservations.

Pictured: Adi Rahman - one of the commentators in Homeground Asia video

Stereotyping or masking reality?

The ministry said last month (Apr 30) the video was meant to show "a family’s journey of resilience in facing challenging circumstances and how mutual support and encouragement could nurture the process”.

Other netizens felt it was an overreaction and that low-income families shouldn't be dehumanized in a way that they are removed from the conversation. They felt that the video was a call-to-action for those from the underprivileged to strive for a better life through hard work and seeking help that's already available.

The only missed opportunity in the MCI video was perhaps the suggestion that Malays in low income families living in a rental flat could not celebrate Hari Raya unless they get a flat on their own.

But of course, like Homeground Asia, that is also a sweeping assumption.