This week, as Australia looks to the future of its foreign policy, Access Now sent a submission to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) with recommendations for protecting the human rights of domestic and international users. Specifically, we encouraged DFAT to secure users’ rights regarding freedom of expression, privacy, regional capacity building, and developments in technology. We write:
Australia’s foreign policy in this area should be designed to counter any threats to digital rights, in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. Access Now encourages DFAT to affirm its overarching commitment to digital rights in the White Paper, with a particular focus on key policy issues including freedom of expression and privacy in the digital age.
This submission was sent to help inform the Australian government as it has recently begun development of a new Foreign Policy White Paper, to be published this year, to outline its “economic, security and foreign policy interests and examine global trends.” The task force working on the paper, under the DFAT, has welcomed public comment to “ensure the White Paper is informed by the best possible advice.”
What we advised the Australian government to do:
- Freedom of expression – the government has explicitly stated that, were it to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, it would protect freedom of expression, and it has further advocated against internet censorship. We urged the government to take a leadership role in protecting free expression in the context of programs to Counter Violent Extremism (CVE), referencing our human rights policy guide for more specific recommendations. We also advised the government, in its leadership role in the Indo-Pacific region, to condemn any internet shutdowns by governments in the region.
- Privacy – Australia is one of the Five Eyes, the intelligence alliance that includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. This raises concerns about the privacy and security of Australia’s own citizens and the fundamental rights of people in other countries. We recommended the government enhance transparency and consider the security implications of government surveillance and hacking operations, including exploring surveillance law reform.
- Regional capacity building – Australia plays a key role in capacity building within its region. We recommended ensuring that human rights are at the forefront of every framework for digital capacity building, both within the Indo-Pacific region and throughout the Commonwealth of Nations.
- Developments in technology – Since the goal of the White Paper is to guide foreign policy over the next ten years, we advised that the government undertake strategies for dealing with developments in technology that are flexible and responsive. We encouraged the government to maintain focus on transparency, inclusivity, and equitable access, and to keep open channels of communication with stakeholders and external experts.
Australia has a unique position as a member of the Freedom Online Coalition and the Commonwealth of Nations. In these capacities, and in its role in the Indo-Pacific region, the government must demonstrate its commitment to protecting the digital human rights of citizens, both domestic and international.