Australian lawyer dubbed ‘human rights hero’

Digital Rights Watch’s Lizzie O'Shea recognised for campaign against ‘encryption’ bill

Credit: Access Now

Human rights lawyer Lizzie O'Shea has received an international award recognising her efforts to oppose Australia’s controversial encryption legislation.

Parliament last year passed, with bipartisan support, the somewhat innocuously named Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 in the face of widespread opposition from both human rights groups and the tech and telecommunications sectors.

The legislation creates a framework for police and national security agencies to issue directions to communications services providers to cooperate with investigations. However, much of the controversy surrounding the bill was based on the perception that it could weaken the security of online services: The legislation allows the government to issue an instruction to a service provider to implement a new capability in order to facilitate the work of law enforcement agencies. The government has said that it will not enable the creation of backdoors or undermine security, but critics of the law are not convinced.

O'Shea is a board member of advocacy group Digital Rights Watch and helped organise opposition to the legislation.

In the lead-up to the legislation being passed on parliament’s final sitting day of 2018, Digital Rights Watch worked as part of a coalition dubbed the Alliance for a Safe and Secure Internet. The alliance drew together groups including the Human Rights Law Centre, Amnesty International and Access Now as well as telco industry group Communications Alliance, and DIGI, whose members include Google, Facebook and Twitter.

O'Shea was one of the spokespeople for the alliance and a co-author of a joint submission from human rights organisations to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s inquiry into the bill.

Access Now has named O’Shea a ‘Human Rights Hero’ for her efforts. The organisation releases an annual list of human rights heroes and villains. Previous heroes have included UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay, former president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, Professor Kyung-Sin Park, and Supreme Court of Justice of India Rohinton Nariman.

Lizzie O'Shea (Source: Twitter)
Lizzie O'Shea (Source: Twitter)

“Frequently working in coalition, O’Shea has led the campaign against the Assistance and Access Bill and other threats to secure communications in Australia,” Access Now said in a statement.

“This has included building an alliance across technology companies, civil society organizations, academics, and activists, and fronting media, public events, and parliamentary inquiries. Despite the laws being passed, the campaign had a huge mobilizing impact, with a strong coalition committed to working together and thousands of Australian citizens sparked to take action.”

O’Shea said she was “thrilled” to receive the award but said she had been part of a “team effort”.

“We plan to continue to fight these laws on the basis that they represent overreach and contain the potential for abuse,” she told Computerworld. “The recent raids on journalists show that the powers given to agencies in recent years are too broad and a cause of concern to the public.”

She said that DRW would continue to call for the repeal of the legislation although noted that seemed unlikely under the current government; O’Shea described the campaign against the laws as a “marathon rather than a sprint.”

O’Shea will be presented with her award by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet later today at RightsCon in Tunisia.

The Assistance and Access legislation is currently subject to further review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

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