A once-in-a-century pandemic has given cover for governments, businesses and organisations to use technology in new or expanded ways to their benefit. As a result, 2020 was a year that saw Australians’ digital rights tested and encroached on in unprecedented ways.
Australian advocacy group Digital Rights Watch has released its State Of Digital Rights report for 2020, examining the new digital developments of the past year and how they affect the rights of each citizen.
In a foreword to the report, Digital Rights Watch chair Lizzie O’Shea points at how the pandemic has been used as a justification to further expand the power of the state and other organisations.
“A crisis is always an opportunity for the powers that be, and they have proven themselves prepared to trample on our rights if necessary,” she wrote.
And boy, was there a bit to talk about in the report.
Facial recognition technology, surveillance of workers whether they were working at home or in the office, platforms profiting from content creators, conflict, misinformation, the increasing hostility towards activists online, and the steady erosion of privacy through ubiquitous surveillance are just some of the issues discussed.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The report’s chapters — each on a different topic from a different author — also plots out recommendations for how to push back.
A data and movement-tracking opt-out register, updating discrimination laws to include scrutiny of algorithms and artificial intelligence, introducing appeal mechanism when content is taken down and introducing an enshrined right to privacy are some of the solutions offered.
Activists are already aware of these issues and are campaigning to protect Australian’s rights, the report says.
“The conversations about regulating technology are underway. That includes issues of competition and consumer rights, but also the need to reform privacy laws. For those who value digital rights, now is the time to get them on the agenda,” O’Shea finishes.