Australia is a world leader in internet usage and bad internet policies, so Australians want better policies

Australia is one of the world leaders in internet adoption and usage, and it's also been one of the worst offenders in bad internet policy, with a track record to rival even America's reckless indifference to the internet's overall importance.

Australia's one of the pioneers of crappy internet rules, having enacted a content-based national firewall in 1993, and today insisting that the laws of the Australian legislature trump the laws of mathematics, while taking on a role as the global leader in exporting mass surveillance.

Australian governments have a history of cowardice and pandering to the most reactionary, fearful elements in the electorate, from discriminating against gay people to banning free speech for civil servants to running offshore concentration camps where private contractors get to rape (including rape of children) and abuse the inmates.

But Australia's reliance on the internet and its official indifference to the gravitas of internet regulation are on a collision course with one another. As a Digital Rights Australia/University of Sydney report shows, the Australian populace are smarter than their leaders when it comes to the internet, with excellent intuition about the risks of government, workplace and commercial surveillance; the importance of protecting free speech and privacy online; and checking the power of ISPs to warp net neutrality into network discrimination.

What's more, there's only one direction this phenomenon can go: up. Every day from now on, more Australians will have direct experience of the bad outcomes from bad internet policy. That means that every day, from now on, more Australians will want sensible and principled internet rules, not pandering to bigots and frightened people.

Policy Recommendations 1.Most Australians are concerned about their privacy online and are concerned about privacy violations by corporations. Nearly half of our respondents are concerned about government invading their privacy. Australian governments and companies need to address these concerns if they want to improve trust in the online environment, and in programs to promote expanded data use.

2.Australian governments should consider taking up recommendations from recent Australian Law Reform Commission and Australian Productivity Commission inquiries, giving Australians more control over their data and more enforceable legal rights in the area of privacy.

3.Australians are concerned about use of data, and think that some use of data analytics and targeting by advertisers are beyond the pale – especially in the electoral sphere. Digital platforms must work harder to address these concerns effectively.

4.Australians are prepared to make some trade-offs between privacy and other interests. But current policy moves to collect and centralise more data – through My Health Record or a Digital ID program – look like pushing beyond what Australians are comfortable with.

5.Digital rights to privacy while at work are a major concern for Australians. Employment relations policies need to protect workers from prospective or current employers accessing their private social media data.

6. The gig economy has led to new forms of work, driven by online platforms. Australians expect to see this precarious work better regulated via targeted employment policies.

Digital Rights in Australia [Gerard Goggin, Ariadne Vromen, Kimberlee Weatherall, Fiona Martin, Adele Webb, Lucy Sunman and Francesco Bailo/University of Sydney]

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