Since I got in the middle of the privacy community in Sydney, I am particularly interested the challenges both vulnerable individuals and organisations face. Just a few weeks ago, I had an unpleasant experience at the doctor whereby my sensitive health details got mixed up with someone else's. Various organisations work hard in Australia to not let things like this happen to anyone.

One of the groups I have been following recently is Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA). It grabbed my attention recently as a fresh new board got elected just last month and since then, the community around the organisation seems to be revitalised. EFA is not only one of the biggest privacy and digital rights group in Australia, but it is working for the community for more than 2X years.

What I found personally interesting is that the EFA chair is a woman for the first time ever, and there are a couple of initiatives since the election to help vulnerable women such as victims of domestic abuse.

So, I got very excited when I learned that the EFA's executive officer, Jon Lawrence was in town. We quickly arranged a meeting at a burger joint to chit-chat about the organisation's plans for the new year over.

We sat down at Down 'n' Out, a weird clone of the famous chain from California. Although I am a bit familiar with Jon's work, this was my first time meeting him face to face. Although he was on the road for days, he was [It was the end of the day, so by this point we were both feeling pretty hungry and keen to start our chat]. Once our order was taken, Jon did not hesitate to kick off the conversation.

Cast:

KB:
<< introductions, small talk>>

Jon:
<< small talk >>

KB:
So there's a couple of questions that I wanted to ask collectively. But then, maybe it's more of a conversation about what you've built up.

Jon:
Sure.

KB:
I noticed that you guys' had a press release about having a new female apart of your board. Why was it such a big deal that your first woman had been elected as the EFA chair? [Can be visited at: https://www.efa.org.au/2017/10/16/first-female-leadership/]

Jon:
Well, it's been a long time coming. I think because of the challenges we've had as an organisation for quite a long time is, you know, diversity, generally.

KB:
Yep, totally.

Jon: And gender diversity, so we've obliged part of that. I mean, a sort of core... Across the quarter base is kind of your technical community, which does have a... You know, there is a gender bias in our community. So... But that's not really... There are other organisations that we work with that have done great work on this sort of stuff. In our communities and in Australia particularly. They've done a really good job.

KB:
Yes.

Jon:
And it's certainly something that we've been trying to do, and I think it's exciting that we've had that breakthrough. I think, if anything, it's going to mean that, you know, there's an example there and it shows to other women, but potentially other underrepresented groups that there's an opportunity for them to get involved, and help the organization.

And I think it's inevitable that having female leadership will make it more likely that we do things that are creating the sort of environments that attract more women, to the environment.

I've certainly never been convinced that I've had the answer to those sort of questions, so.

KB:
So, I guess on the back of that, how do you think more women are getting involved with EFA?

Jon:
Well, I mean you know, there certainly are women in that sort of tech industry and tech field, and I know there's a lot of great women doing some great leadership stuff, and we've certainly had some of them around.

We do tend to see, I think, one of our other fallbacks is sort of the policy area, so it tends be a lot worse, and the gender balance there is, if anything, probably the other way. So, you know, that's certainly one area that we've seen a lot of women come through. There's some fantastic women in that sector. Generally I think that's more diverse than the tech sector, at least it used to be. I don't know how close the stereotype is to reality, but it's certainly something the tech sector has struggled with for a while.

KB:
You are absolutely correct Jon. What would be... the biggest issue for Australians moving forward, given everything that's going on in the market?

Jon:
Well, I think the sort of, the kind of comprehensive, ubiquitous surveillance capabilities that come into place are pretty unprecedented and will be essentially impossible to wind back once they're in place.

KB:
…yes, that is true.

Jon:
You know it is true that lots of people willingly allow themselves to be surveilled on Facebook now that it works like that.

KB:
Yes

Jon:
But, of course, there's no other choice there. Everyone uses Facebook. Some people, well, a lot of people are actually able to, use pseudonyms and protect their identity, so a lot of minority groups have those sorts of issues. But this also includes teachers, judges and police officers. They need to be able to have an online existence without necessarily being social with it.

So it's a bit of a chance, I guess, but yeah. We've had the manual for data retention, so all the details of where you're going on your phone, the phone calls you're making, and who you're making them to. That's all now being recorded. We've got this facial recognition database, which it essentially going to have every adult in Australia in it. That's pretty impressive stuff, and there's not a whole lot, well it doesn't leave a whole lot of space for private activity.

KB:
Is there anything else happening that worries you recently?

Jon:
The other thing that's happening - and this is in the Summerland and Elmerland and - the cash is essentially disappearing from society as well, so it will soon be affect... it's not long before it will be effectively impossible to do anonymous transactions.

KB:
Yep. The traceability will become...

Jon:
Absolutely, so you know, it's...

KB:
Vacant.

Jon:
Yeah. And you know, you put those

Nick:
This is yours! [Hands over the burger tray]

KB:
Thank you so much! [Eyes light up]

Nick:
Did you get a burger, Jon?

Jon:
Yeah.

Nick:
Where's the burger order?

KB:
Oh.

Nick:
Sorry.

KB:
That's alright. Thank you, I got fries

Nick:
Do you need cutlery or anything?

Jon:
I'll just take a napkin thanks… Where was I? So..

KB:
Anonymous transactions... [giggles]

Jon:
Yeah, we're always told, you know, that there's computing capabilities innate in terrorism. I mean, for our children, and the reality is that yes, they're almost certainly helpful in those regards, but... they will be useful for developing.

KB:
Yes…

Jon:
And that's our number one, and that list will grow over time, and that's just how these things work.

I think Australians are generally pretty trusting of our government, so we're really not the sort of anti-authority society that we like to think we are. And what make it worse...

KB:
Yes… You mean we're relatively compliant?

Jon:
Absolutely!

KB:
Hmmm, yes.

Jon:
The good thing, I think, about Australians…

KB:
We have road rules that are implemented (giggles)

Jon:
Yes. We're actually a pretty law abiding society, and pretty happy to comply with the government, and pretty happy to give government pretty broad counts. And, while we have relatively, sort of, benign governments, it's rare that community situations where things get nasty, or war breaks out. It's not possible...

KB:
No one's well known…

Jon:
All of a sudden you've got the infrastructure set up for a police attack.

KB:
Do you believe Australia's are almost walking into this next phase of evolution almost blindly?

Jon:
Yeah, I think so. You know, you look at the UK who are a couple steps ahead of us at the present.

KB:
Yep

Jon:
Yeah, that's definitely helping. And London, for example, is like one CCTV camera for every three people. I think we certainly are seeing - and this is has been building over the last year or so.

KB:
Yep

So we had the census that got a lot of people talking about... privacy issues on the front page. The central leak kid fiasco - that sort of fit into that. Facial recognition also. These are now becoming mainstream issues, and being talked about in the mainstream media in a way that we haven't seen... I haven't really seen since I've been involved in it.

So in a sense, that's quite encouraging because, at least, the conversation has been had. I'm in the situation now, where I talk to my family and they know exactly what I'm talking about!

KB:
Well…

Jon:
I was talking to my sister when I said I was speaking with the media today, she goes, "Oh, is it about facial recognition software?" And I went, "yes, yes it is."

KB:
Yasss!

Jon:
Yes, I thought they might be interested in that, so. You know, having that stuff in the mainstream media is...

KB:
Sure. Please continue.

Jon:
Get people talking about it, then hopefully, we can work with the Australian electronic organisations to build the level of education and knowledge around these things and in the wider community. But also, within political class as well. There are some politicians, of course, that I guess are really good on this stuff, but we have to step it up with others.

KB:
Yes.

Jon:
I’ve been here in both the major parties as well. They don't speak out so much because it is the party rules, but they certainly exist. But on the whole, the level of, understanding and conceptual understanding... They don't need to know the technical exams about roads. They need to understand things in a sort of conceptual, architectural way. That's very important.

We thought Malcolm Turnbull was... I think Turnbull does actually understand these things certainly in a way that he's read a sense of it.

KB:
Yeah, wow.

Jon:
But that hasn't helped us in the way that some would have liked.

KB:
So how do you think we can collaborate... to help Australia? What would be your advice on how to do this better and a more unified approach. From my point of view, it's quite disparate at the moment. What would be your advice on the education piece, and do you think it should be incumbent for massive enterprises to talk more openly about this?

Jon:
I think there is a natural division of labor between peer favorites and frontal policy focus and organizations because Australia is out there, on the ground talking about the educational and training working in Australia, and of course, we can work together on that better.

I think there's a real role for the commercial sector to play on this. I think there's a number of sectors that do this already. I mean banks, for obvious reasons, have a very clear interest in making sure their customers have a say in what efficiency looks like, and how encryption works and so forth, and they've done a really good job!

I think on the privacy side of things, ironically, I think Facebook has done a great job…

…and has probably done as much with telling people about privacy as anyone else. Facebook and Google have got lot better over the last few years about telling people. They are going to real efforts to tell people about their privacy policies.

KB:
Yes, that is true.

Jon:
Pushing out prompts to people to go and look at their privacy settings and so forth. They've got a lot better at doing that.

That doesn't stop the whole organization on Facebook is pretty much anti-privacy, but still I think they take it seriously because at the end of the day, if their users don't trust them, they'll go away.

KB:
They wouldn't have a platform…

Jon:
Yeah.

KB:
There’s only one last question. Coming back to being together-unified, we talked about the disparity between... do you think it's even worthwhile having some sort of a front facing ambassador or champion to really drive this forward?

Jon:
Yeah, I mean somebody like Scott Ludlam on this sort of issue... He can pull a crowd. I mean he can get radio attention in a way that, I never will. Yeah, and I think...

KB:
Well…

Jon:
Well, you know. But I mean he's very good at it, and he's got fantastic hair and he has seventy-thousand Twitter followers and...

No I think it is important to have high spokes people because that's how you get attention.

KB:
Yeah, a crowd brings a crowd!

Jon:
But it will be interesting in... As you told me earlier, you know, the greens are introducing Bill Right. I think that's going to be a very interesting conversation, and you know, policy discussion. I think... I wouldn't be that optimistic about it happening very short term, but you know... It's something the labor party would support in principal.

I've spoken to people on this coalition side of this...

KB:
Yep.

Jon:
...And I don't think... You know they sort of tend to shy away from, sort of, commemoration sorts of things.

KB:
Yep.

Jon:
So I don't know if there'll be too much yet. But it will be interesting, and you know, if we can get any additional protection, you know, any additional enforcement protections we can get on privacy and so on and so forth are a step forward because there really are so few of them, and you know, they're coming into constitution so…


After a pretty good chat with Jon, we had eaten all burgers and fries. It was interesting as the chat was so casual and it was a great way to find out more about what the EFA does. If you too are interested in finding out more or getting involved, please check out some of their stuff here. You can sign-up as a volunteer on the EFA website or subscribe to the EFA Privacy mailing list.

The End.

Image courtesy of Pixabay