Interview with David Campbell

By Maya Chanthaphavong in conversation with David Campbell | 01 Jun 12
As rallies are held world wide to show support for Julian Assange, who recently lost his fight against extradition to Sweden and will possibly appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, Samaya Chanthaphavong spoke to David Campbell, president of the Pirate Party Australia on Wikileaks, Julian Assange and internet freedom as a human right.

[RN]: The Pirate Party is known for it’s views on Intellectual Property however less known for its stance on civil liberties and privacy-can you tell us a bit about the Party’s concerns with civil liberties and privacy in Australia?

[David Campbell]: In many respects the stance on copyright is based upon the importance placed on civil liberties by Pirates. Many of the initiatives regarding the enforcement of copyright lead invariably to mechanisms that seek to remove or undermine due process or lead to wholesale invasion of privacy. The extension of ISP responsibility for the actions of their customers necessarily mandates that their emails, their browsing traffic is monitored. So emails to your doctor, to your lawyer, your lover — these are all retained for prying eyes, so that copyright might be enforced in a digital paradigm. Privacy is a fundamental human right, its something that underpins human dignity, and it’s definitely not a crime. Its importance far outweighs the copyright monopoly.

Privacy is a fundamental human right, its something that underpins human dignity.

As pirates, we oppose things like mandatory data retention, a disproportionate, costly, and unnecessary approach to governance currently under consideration by the Attorney General’s Department. Where data is stored, we support strong data protection and breach notification laws. A more extensive deconstruction of our stance on privacy and why mandatory data retention is not necessary can be found in our submission to the most recent Privacy Inquiry.

Incumbent politicians simply don’t seem to understand the Internet and are trying to impose all sorts of ill-conceived regulatory regimes. For instance, you might recall Senator Conroy’s ‘Clean Feed’ which was essentially the implementation of mandatory, government controlled censorship infrastructure. Whilst demonstrably useless the creation of such architecture is a complete assault on the freedom of speech and communication with its potential for suppression of information. Blocking and internet filtering, especially for something like copyright infringement, which is something that has been suggested, completely violates fundamental freedoms.

Why does the Pirate Party want to show support for Julian Assange?

The Party has had a long relationship with Wikileaks, and we have long recognised the importance of journalists like Julian Assange and whistleblowers. Their role is an essential one in any modern democratic country. Julian Assange has not broken any law, despite the highly prejudicial and inappropriate commentary offered by Prime Minister Gillard. The Australian government have not fulfilled their obligation to protect an Australian citizen abroad, especially one who may potentially be extradited for retribution to the US for conspiracy and espionage.

The Party supports stronger freedom of information laws, journalist source protection and whistleblower laws similar to the framework proposed by the International Modern Media Institute. We recognise the importance of whistleblowers and journalists in exposing corruption, governmental and private sector abuses.

How important is Wikileaks, and the internet in general in providing information to the public?

Wikileaks and other sites facilitating public access to information about what our governments do in secret is vital for the functioning of democracy. Wikileaks has become a model used by others to help fight back against increasing government secrecy. It has probably been the most successful news organisation on the planet in the last few years, and its success has brought it the undue attention of the US who are hell-bent on punishing Assange for putting their actions under proper scrutiny.

What is more important than Wikileaks is the ability the Internet affords us to communicate amongst each other. The Internet gives us all the power to publish whatever we like, and we can contact potentially millions of people through social media.

As the corporate media has become increasingly shallow and propagandistic, the ability for us all to communicate amongst each other is a powerful force to counter-balance this.

Access to the Internet is a human right — socially, culturally and economically, we rely on access to it. We learn on the Internet, we create, remix and share culture, we do our business and banking online, we conduct our political and social discourses on the Internet. It is increasingly woven into our every day lives, and this will only continue. This is another reason why moves to disconnect, suspend or interfere with access by governments upon allegation of copyright infringement are completely disproportionate and inappropriate.

Access to the Internet is a human right — socially, culturally and economically, we rely on access to it.

What does the Party have to say about the need for the State to maintain state secrets and national security? Is there an issue in Australia?

There are significant issues with the erosion of civil liberties justified by the supposition of threats to national security. We are seeing extremely intrusive measures being introduced with very little evidence justifying their introduction. Things like mandatory data retention, naked body scanners and the increasing surveillance and detention powers of law enforcement without commensurate privacy and process protections.

We believe the culture of openness in government needs to be entirely reversed. There is clearly a culture of over-classification. Transparency should be the default. All information and data should be open and accessible, unless it can be justified that it should be secret, and even then there should be limitations on duration.

For instance, we might look to just the last trade agreement signed by the government, the Malaysian Free Trade Agreement, which like every other treaty, is negotiated in secrecy, only revealed once the Department has signed the document. There are no inclusion or oversight mechanisms for civil society or the general public. These sorts of processes must change, there can be very little justification for keeping trade negotiations secret, especially where broader multi-lateral agreements impact on all Australian citizens.

Declarations of open government are all well and good, but when they are simply empty platitudes and the state remains opaque, its processes closed and exclusionary, there is a desperate need for more structural reform.