Australian Greens proposes Digital Rights Commissioner

Should the Greens get their way, Australia would have a Human Rights Commissioner focused on digital rights, privacy, and security.

The Australian Greens party has announced a plan for Australia's Human Rights Commission to have a commissioner advocating for digital rights, online safety, accessibility, privacy, and security.

"Debates about digital rights in Australia have mostly been reactive; to the Snowden disclosures, the mandatory data retention scheme, or the internet filter," Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said. "Those discussions centred on the false choice between individual privacy or national security.

"An independent Digital Rights Commissioner will help to bring forward informed debate about all of the impacts of proposed or possible legislation on our rights online, helping to prevent the further erosion of those rights."

The Greens said the new commissioner would work with the Office of the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner, but without being limited by the Privacy Act.

"Even if it were comprehensively updated, it is unlikely that the Privacy Act, and the role of the privacy commissioner, could be expanded to include pre-emptive advice in the manner of the Australian Human Rights Commission, given those legislated responsibilities," the Greens policy [PDF] states.

According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, the addition of a Digital Rights Commissioner would cost the government AU$1.3 million over four years.

The Greens accused both of Australia's major political parties of being "deeply complicit" in the removal of digital rights.

"It's not just data retention, or the new facial recognition capability. It's not just privacy that is under attack; the government and opposition have shown startling illiteracy around issues such as encryption, which millions of Australians rely on for their banking and secure communication," Ludlam said.

"An independent advocate will help address vulnerability to online fraud and theft, well before ill-considered proposals become law."

Yesterday, Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare said he understood the concern over Australia's mandatory data-retention laws, but sidestepped questions for Labor to make changes to the scheme if elected on July 2.

Under Australia's data-retention laws, approved law-enforcement agencies are able to warrantlessly access two years' worth of customers' call records, location information, IP addresses, billing information, and other data stored by telcos.

As a direct result of Labor's support, data retention was passed without data breach-notification laws in place, despite the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security recommending in February 2015 that Australia has such laws in place prior to the implementation phase of the data retention scheme.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told ZDNet in April an incoming Labor government would bring on data breach-notification laws "as soon as practicable".

The Greens had also proposed an Innovation Commissioner that would develop an innovation strategy and "advance the innovation agenda", as well as look at government procurement.

The party's innovation policy also proposes changes to the Corporations Act to allow for the creation of benefit corporations to allow directors to consider a business' impact on society and the environment.

"Benefit Corporations are companies that consider the collective good, generate public benefit, and generate profit," the policy [PDF] states.

"Currently, company directors are precluded from including social impact as a consideration and may be subject to personal liability and breach of fiduciary duty if shareholder value will be compromised."

The Greens would also double the equity cap on crowdfunding a startup from AU$5 million to AU$10 million.

In December, the Australian government produced legislation allowing for unlisted public companies to raise up to AU$5 million in crowdfunding in a 12-month period from retail investors, who themselves are capped at AU$10,000 per issuer for 12 months.