NSA authorized Australian wiretapping of US law firms in trade-dispute

A new Snowden leak, "SUSLOC (Special US Liaison Office Canberra) Facilitates Sensitive DSD Reporting on Trade Talks," details how the NSA mentored and oversaw Australian spies, and sanctioned their surveillance a of US law firm representing the nation of Indonesia in a trade dispute with Australia. The NSA and their Australian counterparts have captured the master keys for Telkomsel, the Indonesian carrier, and have total access to its communications. It's more evidence that mass surveillance and Internet wiretaps are about economic espionage more than national security -- and more evidence that the NSA is a lawless organization with no respect for foundational principles like attorney-client privilege. Cory 17

Australian government to dump 3,000,000 cubic meters of dredged sea-bottom on the Great Barrier Reef


In December, the Australian government approved a plan by India's Adani Group to expand a coal port, and now the government's given the go-ahead to dump the 3,000,000 cubic meters of muck that will be dredged for the project onto the struggling Great Barrier Reef. The GBR, which is a World Heritage Site, is already officially classed in "poor" health, and the ocean floor around it will now be smothered with vast amounts of waste, destroying fragile habitats and crippling a key player in the world's ocean ecology. The Australian government says that the reef will not suffer as a result, but independent scientists who investigated the question firmly disagree.

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Victorian Transport Department calls cops on 16 year old for reporting bug that exposed customers' personal data

Last month, around Christmas, a sixteen-year-old Australian named Joshua Rogers living in Victoria told the Transport Department that its Metlink website was exposing the sensitive details of over 600,000 transit users, including "full names, addresses, home and mobile phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and a nine-digit extract of credit card numbers."

He waited two weeks, but after he had not heard from Metlink -- and as the data exposure was ongoing -- he went to the national newspaper The Age, who called the Transport Department for comment. Whereupon the Transport Department called the police, who arrested the teenager.

It may be that the mistake that exposed all this sensitive data was an "honest" one -- after all, there's no experimental methodology for verifying security apart from telling people what you're doing and asking them to poke holes in it. Security is a process, not a product.

But that means that anyone who keeps sensitive public information on hand has a duty to take bug reports about vulnerabilities seriously, and to act on them quickly. Killing (or arresting) the messenger is absolutely unforgivable, not merely because of the injustice to this one person, but because it creates a chilling effect on all future bug-reporters, and not just for your service, but for all of them.

The Transport Department hasn't only unjustly punished an innocent person; it hasn't only weakened its own security; it hasn't only failed in its duty to its customers -- it has struck a blow against the very idea of security itself, and harmed us all.

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Australians ask their government for humane refugee treatment for Christmas


Australian Asher Wolf's taken to the Guardian to explain why her family is spending Christmas petitioning for humane refugee treatment from the Australian government. Wolf enumerates the conditions under which Australia keeps refugees in its off-shore camps -- conditions that Amenesty considers to be torture, conditions where basic sanitation and health-care are denied to families fleeing war, torture and death threats. Deprived of the shoes, hearing aids, and medicine they managed to smuggle out of their own countries, these refugees, including children, are denied sufficient water, exposed to malaria and TB, and are brutalized into suicide attempts. Gay detainees are sent to camps in PNG, where homosexuality is illegal. Orphans get it even worse -- though the immigration minister Scott Morrison is their legal guardian, these children are left with no one to advocate for them.

According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, the Australian government is spending 1000% more torturing and detaining migrants than it would spend on "community processing" on the mainland. But wasting money on cruelty curries favour with racist voters, so it is the preferred option. For now. But, perhaps, not if Australians in great number write to the minister to explain that his cynical games with innocent human lives will cost him more votes than they win.

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Cory coming to Melbourne next week for four events

I'm heading to Melbourne, Australia next week to do a series of events with the Center for Youth Literature of the State Library of Victoria. I'm doing four events: The science of fiction, Creative versus Commons, Digital fiction masterclass, and Future fiction with teens. I hope you'll come out to them!

Police sued after horse drools on protestor

So goes the story, as Australia's tabloids have it, in their outrage-fueled denunciation of a frivolous lawsuit. Turns out, though, that the horse also crushed the guy's foot and kept him out of work for six weeks. How about that! [Adelaide Now]

Dinosauric knit mitts


These dinosauric knit mittens were made by Etsy seller HotScones, who ships from Australia. $43.61 (US) a pair, plus shipping.

HotScones (via Laughing Squid)

Yip-Yip-Yip leggings


Australian tights makers Black Milk continue to plumb the depths of weird juxtaposition and tessellation with these Sesame Street Yip-Yip-Yip leggings, which retail for AUD85 plus S&H.

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Obit for a prolific newspaper site commenter

David sends us "An obituary for a prolific commenter on the Brisbanetimes.com.au news website. This nonagenarian only took to the internet in the last year or so and was prolific in the comments on the site. A touching tribute to a respected member of a community."

The person who commented under "Bob Menzies" was "a lifelong Queensland public servant" who been a member of the Liberal Party since 1950, and who wore a black suit to work every day of his working life.

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Town council snoops on phones to find litterbugs & unlicensed pet owners

Juha sez, "Wyndham council in the Australian state of Victoria has been spying on residents for three years to find not terrorists, but people who litter and keep unregistered pets, and advertise without permission. Words fail me. If this isn't a wake-up call for greater privacy protection, I don't know what is." Cory 16

Australian Army on institutional sexism: The standard you walk past is the standard you accept

Michael sez, "In response to a breaking scandal the head of the Australian Army gives a textbook example on how to respond to sexual abuse in the military, hell, misogyny in any organisation: blunt, unambiguous, drawing on both institutional policy and personal ethics, and frankly a bit terrifying in a Tywin Lassister kind of way. I quailed and I'm not even a soldier. I also think there should be more of this."

If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honors the traditions of the Australian army. I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those who by their rank have a leadership role.

Chief of Army message regarding unacceptable behaviour

(Transcript: Skepchick)

(Thanks, Michael!)

Canberra Skywhale: fanciful, breast-studded lighter-than-air cetacean


Here's a beautiful gallery of publicity shots of the Canberra Skywhale, a lighter-than-air sculpture created by Patricia Piccinini to celebrate the centenary of the capital city of Australia. The Skywhale is a fanciful, breast-studded creature from a contrafactual alternate history:

"My question is what if evolution went a different way and instead of going back into the sea, from which they came originally, they went into the air and we evolved a nature that could fly instead of swim. In fact coming from a place like Canberra where it's a planned city that's really tried to integrate and blend in with the natural environment, it makes a lot of sense to make this sort of huge, gigantic, but artificial and natural-looking creature".[8]

The Centenary of Canberra Skywhale (via JWZ)

Store wants $5 browsing fee to deter "showrooming" by online shoppers


A specialty food store in Brisbane, Australia posted this sign, demanding a $5 deposit from people who enter the shop, refundable with your purchase. They are trying to curb "showrooming" -- when customers of online businesses use brick-and-mortar competitors as showrooms to check out goods before they order them. As Consumerist points out, this is likely to be a self-defeating strategy:

If customers aren’t buying, the seller needs to figure out why and adapt accordingly. If this store’s prices are truly the best, then maybe it should be offering a price-match guarantee. If it truly offers products that aren’t available elsewhere, then how are these showrooming shoppers buying these items from someone else? Perhaps people are just curious and want to see the prices and have no intention of buying anything anywhere? Think of how many times you’ve looked at Amazon just out of curiosity. Window-shoppers are part of the retail equation; it’s up to the retailer to either ignore them or turn them from looky-loos into bona fide buyers.

I'd go further than this. It takes a lot of retail exposure to turn some browsers into buyers -- you might see something in a shop, think about it, and go back.

Further, getting people into the shop is a significant expense for most businesses. Once a person is in your business, you have lots of opportunities to try to convert that person into a buyer, in an environment that you control (see NYC Fifth Ave retailers, who run their escalators in an alternate-reverse pattern so you have to wind your way past all the high-impulse goods and displays to get to the top floor; or grocers who put the milk at the back of the shop). Adding literal barriers to entry is utterly self-sabotaging.

Finally, the idea of imposing a head-tax on everyone entering the shop is especially misguided. It means that a customer who thinks he can talk his wife/kids (or husband, friends, whatever) into accompanying him into the shop while he grabs something on the way past is doomed to not making a purchase. What's more, the retailer loses the chance to convert some of those tag-alongs into customers.

Store Combats Showrooming With $5 ‘Just Looking’ Fee [Consumerist/Chris Morran]

(Photo: BarrettFox on Reddit)

Eating a wedding cake in reverse

Tommy sez, "I made this film clip with a great photographer friend of mine and it took two takes. That means I had to eat TWO CAKES. I ended up eating so much confetti and glitter that I had a glittery poo the next day. But it was all worth it as backwards eating really can end up looking quite beautiful. Thankfully the clip was not about the glittery poo."

Spender - NEVER AGAIN - {Official} (Thanks, Tom!)

Casino cheats used house CCTVs to score $32M

A rich, high-stakes gambler was dragged out of his opulent comp suite at the Crown Towers casino in Melbourne, accused of participating in a $32M scam that made use of the casino's own CCTV cameras to cheat.

The Herald Sun understands remote access to the venue's security system was given to an unauthorised person.

Images relayed from cameras were then used to spy on a top-level gaming area where the high roller was playing.

Signals were given to him on how he should bet based on the advice of someone viewing the camera feeds. Sources said the total stolen was $32 million.

They are capable of transmitting the most intricate detail of goings-on inside the building.

Casinos were the world leaders in CCTV use, and really represent ground zero for the panopticon theory of security. What is rarely mentioned is that "security" measures can be turned against defenders if attackers can hijack them. This is as true when a mugger uses his victim's gun against him as it is when a casino's own CCTVs are used to defeat its own anti-cheating measures. This is the high-stakes gambling version of all those IP-based CCTVs that leak sensitive footage of the inside of peoples' houses onto the public Internet.

Crown casino hi-tech scam nets $32 million [Mark Buttler/Herald Sun]

(via /.)