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March 26, 2013

Asylum seekers die when vessel goes down north of Australia

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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A young boy was pronounced dead Monday after the refugee boat he was on was hit by large waves and overturned in high seas north of Christmas Island, an Australian offshore territory. Customs officers rescued 93 asylum seekers; those pulled from the sea are predominantly of Afghan decent, or from neighbouring countries. Christmas Island houses the Immigration Detention Centre, which provides temporary accommodation facilities for asylum seekers.

The officers pulled two bodies from the sea, one being young boy, said to be aged four or five, the other of a woman in her thirties. When the boat overturned, the people on board were rescued by the nearby customs boat Ocean Protector.

When asked, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “Too many people have lost their lives getting on these very dangerous boats,” describing this incident as “a dreadful tragedy”.

In addition to the two dead, another young boy and a pregnant woman were left in a critical condition after the accident. The remainder of the refugees seeking asylum only sustain minor injuries.

Those rescued are now facing the likelihood they will be processed in Nauru, or on Papua New Guinea‘s Manus Island, under the Australian Federal Government’s offshore processing programme.



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February 5, 2013

UN adds to criticism of Australian offshore centers

UN adds to criticism of Australian offshore centers

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) echoed criticism from other human rights groups yesterday as its new report called on Australia to cease the practice of holding asylum seekers in an uncertain status in its offshore facilities.

The UNHCR spent three days in January at an Australian facility located on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Following Australian mandatory policy, the more than two hundred detainees held there were detained upon requesting asylum. More than 30 children are being held at this Australian facility. The UNHCR report raised the crowded conditions at the camp as a cause for concern, as well as the impact isolation could have on the children. Australia has another facility for asylum seekers on the island of Nauru. The UNHCR report made clear Australia does not have a process for clearing the asylum seekers, which means their detention in the camps is indefinite and a violation of international human rights.

Caught in the middle of the debate is the new immigration minister Brendan O’Connor. O’Connor was named immigration minister this weekend. The following night, a boat load of 60 refugees who were approached near Christmas Island sought asylum. Monday, the UNHCR issued its report. Union leaders, amongst them Brendan’s brother Michael O’Connor who is national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, are calling for and end to current migration deals.

A report from Monash University found immigrants have taken 200,000 jobs created during the last two years, depressing employment of young, lower skilled Australians. Polls show a 70 percent majority of Australians stand opposed to the growth in population that will result from immigration.

Amnesty International points out that those migrants held in offshore processing facilities are not typical immigrants but rather asylum seekers. It says the latter category accounts for only three percent of Australia’s influx from immigration. Moreover, Amnesty International says the practice of offshore facilities for asylum seekers runs afoul of Australia’s own international agreements, such as the UN Refugee Convention, and laws, Australian Migration Act 1958.

In August, Prime Minister Julia Gillard indicated in talks with Nauru and Papua New Guinea that Australia was interested in quickly processing the asylum seekers.



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June 28, 2012

Prime Minister Julia Gillard farewells athletes at Australian Paralympic Team Launch

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Canberra, AustraliaAustralian political leaders Prime Minister Julia Gillard; Minister for Sport, Senator Kate Lundy; and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott wished the Australian team every success at the Official Australian Paralympic Team Launch in the Great Hall at Parliament House, Canberra on 25 June 2012. The London Paralympic Games commence on 29 August 2012.

‎Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaking at the Australian Paralympic Team Launch at Parliament House, 25 June 2012
Image: Aussiesportlibrarian.

A contingent of current Paralympians from eleven sports were present and amongst them were multiple gold medalists from previous Games – swimmer Matthew Cowdrey, track sprinter Evan O’Hanlon, and wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley. Sitting with the team contingent was Elizabeth Kosmala who is to compete at her eleventh Games.

Politicians from both sides of politics were in attendance including Jenny Macklin, Minister for Disability Reform, Bill Shorten, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Luke Hartsuyker, Shadow Minister for Sport. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was also in attendance. Rudd’s wife Thérèse Rein‘s father John Rein competed for Australia at the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.

Greg Hartung, President of the Australian Paralympic Committee, set the scene by highlighting that the Australian team of 304, including 161 athletes, would be the largest ever to attend a Games outside Australia. Hartung acknowledged the great support provided by the Australian and State Governments and corporate sponsors and partners. Hartung told the audience that the London Games will be the largest ever with 4,200 athletes from 160 countries competing in front of a global television audience of 3 billion. Hartung said “the Paralympic Games has become an iconic event. It is the highest level achievement for athletes with a disability”. Hartung highlighted the value of the Paralympics by stating besides inspiring people “it has the power to change lives and enrich the community”.

Prime Minister Gillard told the athletes that today they became a ‘team’ as they will now wear the green and gold and to compete for Australia. She told the athletes that they were “the fastest, the strongest, the best”. She jokingly told the athletes that they would have to put up with bad weather and bad food but acknowledged that Paralympics were going back to the home of the International Stoke Mandeville Games. Gillard stated that the Australian Government had provided A$13 million in team funding in the last year and that she didn’t think there would be “a single tax payer out there who would begrudge a single cent”.

Senator Lundy’s brief speech focused on how sport unifies the nation and how the Paralympians are “epitome of inspiration” to current and future generations. Tony Abbott told the athletes that “you are best of the best. In fact you are better than that because each one of you has mastered a significant disability to be in this team”. Abbott said that the Paralympians embodied the Australian characteristics of ‘a fair go’ and ‘having a go’.

Bridie Kean and Kathryn Ross speaking about their Road to London Paralympics
Image: Aussiesportlibrarian.

Wheelchair basketballer Bridie Kean, rower Kathryn Ross and wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnely gave the audience an insight into their road to London. Kean, the Glider’s team captain thanked the Australian Paralympic Committee for their support and increased professionalism since Beijing. Keen told how watching the wheelchair basketball at the Sydney Paralympics inspired her to take up the sport.

Kathryn Ross, a Beijing silver medallist, highlighted the funding support from the Australian Paralympic Committee, Australian Sports Commission, and Australian Institute of Sport allowed her to devote the last four years to her goal of competing successfully at her second Games. Special mention was given to her home town of Warrnambool for their support on her journey.

Kurt Fearnley speaking about his Road to the 2012 London Paralympic Games
Image: Aussiesportlibrarian.

Kurt Fearnley, who is aiming to be the first athlete to win the gruelling men’s marathon at three successive Games, said he was ‘feeling happy’ going into the Games and had done the work required. Fearnley said he was looking forward to the Poms singing Australia’s national anthem. Finally, Fearnley thanked the support of both sides of politics and the community. He said that the “Australian Paralympic Team was as good as an export as any team and any people we send abroad”.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme was raised by Greg Hartung and Tony Abbott during their speeches as an important government priority. Hartung highlighted the fact that 36 members of the team were high support needs athletes and this Scheme would lead to more people with a disability being able to participate in sport.

At the end of the launch, Jason Hellwig, London 2012 Chef de Mission, presented Julia Gilliard, Kate Lundy, Tony Abbott, and Luke Hartsuyker with team tracksuits.

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January 27, 2012

Wikinews Shorts: January 27, 2012

Wikinews Shorts: January 27, 2012 – Wikinews, the free news source

Wikinews Shorts: January 27, 2012

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A compilation of brief news reports for Friday, January 27, 2012.

If you believe any of these stories deserves more in-depth coverage, feel free to write a full article on the issues raised.

Medicins Sans Frontieres announces partial withdrawal over Libyan torture abuses

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have announced a partial withdrawal from Libya. The medical charity announced they will no longer work at Libyan detention centres due to facing treating torture victims in order to make them well enough to be further tortured. MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said: “Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions”.

The United Nations estimates that some 8,500 former Gaddafi loyalists are being held by a number of unregulated, and unaccountable, armed groups.



Jagger tells World Economic Forum, “can’t always get what you want”

Lead singer of The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger has withdrawn from the ‘Great British Tea Party’ in Davos, Switzerland.

Cutting short his visit to the 2012 World Economic Forum, as well as pulling out of Prime Minister David Cameron’s event intended to promote UK creativity, Jagger complained of both “being used as a political football” and “comment[s] about my political allegiances which are inaccurate.”



UK Prime Minister calls for European Union to be more competetive

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron called on European Union leaders to be “bold” and “decisive” to boost growth and promote business.

Labelling a proposed financial transactions tax as “madness” he attacked “unnecessary” regulations on business, telling attendees that “Europe’s lack of competitiveness remains its Achilles heel.”



Coup in Papua New Guinea fails

A military coup in Papua New Guinea failed with the capture of at least fifteen mutineers. These supporters of deposed former Prime Minister Sir Michael Thomas Somare seized a military barracks, and the nation’s military head, early on Thursday morning and demanded Somare be reinstated.

The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea previously ruled that Somare be reinstated, concluding that current Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was unlawfully appointed.



Australian Prime Minister rescued from protesters

During an Australia Day function, the country’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard — and the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, had to be rescued after they were surrounded by as many as 200 aboriginal rights protesters at a Canberra restaurant.

The protesters, from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, appear to have been angered by Abbot’s suggestion that it was time for the Embassy, now in its fortieth year, to come down.





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January 25, 2012

Geoffrey Rush named 2012 Australian of the Year

Filed under: Archived,Australia,Culture and entertainment,Julia Gillard — admin @ 5:00 am

Geoffrey Rush named 2012 Australian of the Year

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

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File photo of Geoffrey Rush at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival
Image: Georges Biard.

On the eve of Australia’s national day celebrations, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced Geoffrey Rush‘s receipt of this year’s Australian of the Year award. Presenting the accolade to Rush on the lawn of Parliament House, Gillard cited his “outstanding achievements in a lifelong career on the stage and screen and long term commitment to the Australian arts”; Rush is one of only a handful of actors with a claim to the ‘Triple crown of acting’, having won Tony, Emmy and Academy awards..

Marita Cheng, a 22 year old engineering advocate — and student at the University of Melbourne, is the new Young Australian of the Year. Chosen for her “leadership in the occupational landscape for women by encouraging girls to pursue engineering studies and careers”, Cheng founded Robogals Global in 2008 to address low participation by women in technologically-oriented fields.

Laurie Baymarrwangga, an elder from the island of Murrungga in East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, is the new Senior Australian of the Year. Cited for her “extraordinary commitment to maintaining her culture, the environment of her beloved Crocodile Islands and ensuring younger generations continue to keep their heritage alive”, she initiated the Yan-nhangu dictionary project, and still continues to support the now-online project; aged in her nineties, and not knowing English when she launched her project, Baymarrwangga was unable to attend the ceremony.

Lynne Sawyers of Darbys Falls was named Australia’s Local Hero. A foster mother to over 200 children and, as laid-out in her citation, “for 15 years, she has been on call to care for lost, abused and bewildered children in heartbreaking circumstances.”

Over 5,000 nominations contended for this year’s awards.



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August 9, 2011

Allied WWII spy Nancy Wake dies aged 98

Allied WWII spy Nancy Wake dies aged 98 – Wikinews, the free news source

Allied WWII spy Nancy Wake dies aged 98

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nancy Wake photographed in 1945

Nancy Wake, a spy the German Gestapo nicknamed “The White Mouse” during WWII because of her evasion of them and who once topped their most-wanted list, has died. She passed away Sunday while hospitalised in London within days of turning 99.

Born in New Zealand, she was raised in Australia but ran away when she was sixteen. By the 1930s she was a journalist in Paris when, in 1933, she took a trip to Austria to witness Nazi crimes against Jews. After interviewing Adolf Hitler, she chose to dedicate herself to being a thorn in his side. “In Vienna they had a big wheel and they had the Jews tied to it, and the stormtroopers were there, whipping them. When we were going out of Vienna they took our photos. That was my experience of Hitler,” she later said.

Cquote1.svg I used to think it didn’t matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living Cquote2.svg

—Nancy Wake

France surrendered to the Nazis in 1940, with Wake and her rich husband, businessman Henri Fiocca, joining the Resistance of the German occupiers. The duo helped fleeing soldiers and Jews in their journeys to Spain, with Wake’s roles including spy, courier, and saboteur.

Her husband convinced her to flee to the UK in 1943; upon arrival in England she joined British Special Operations. Wake and Fiocca never met again. The following year she parachuted back into France to give Resistance fighters a weapons delivery, but only found out after the nation’s subsequent liberation that Fiocca had been captured by the Gestapo. They tortured and killed him through his defiance: he refused to give up his wife.

The most decorated Australian servicewoman – and one of the most decorated among the Allies – Wake’s honours included the Legion D’Honneur (France’s highest award), the UK’s George Medal, the US Medal of Freedom, and being made a Companion of the Order of Australia.

Wake made her way back to Australia in 1949 and failed in repeated attempts to be elected to parliament. Since 1957 she has lived in England, married to ex-UK Royal Air Force pilot John Forward. She has been in a veterans’ retirement home since 2003.

“Nancy Wake was a woman of exceptional courage and resourcefulness whose daring exploits saved the lives of hundreds of Allied personnel and helped bring the Nazi occupation of France to an end,” Australian PM Julia Gillard said in tribute, calling her “a devastatingly effective saboteur and spy”. Warren Truss, leader of the Australian National Party, called her exploits “the stuff of legend.” “[A]ll Australians feel very proud of this wonderful woman,” he said.

New Zealand’s Veterans’ Affairs Minister Judith Collins shared the sentiment, calling Wake “a woman of exceptional courage and tenacity, who cast aside all regard for her own safety and put the cause of freedom first”. Wake’s stance on freedom was clear: “Freedom is the only thing worth living for,” she said after the war. “While I was doing that work, I used to think it didn’t matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living.”

Her story inspired Charlotte Gray by author Sebastian Faulks, later made into the movie of the same name. Wake retained pride in her work; “I have only one thing to say: I killed a lot of Germans, and I am only sorry I didn’t kill more,” she would later say of her fighting.



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May 3, 2011

World leaders react to death of Osama bin Laden

World leaders react to death of Osama bin Laden

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

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Cquote1.svg Osama bin Laden suggested that he was operating in the name of Islam, but in reality he makes a mockery of the fundamental values of his own and every other religion. Cquote2.svg

—Angela Merkel

Leaders and officals around the world have issued varied reactions to the announcement that Osama bin Laden has been killed during a U.S. military operation in Pakistan. NATO has insisted it will continue fighting against militants in Afghanistan, and the United Nations said the death of bin Laden marked a “watershed moment in our common global fight against terrorism.”

Announcing that the al-Qaeda leader had been killed by U.S. special forces during a forty-minute raid on a compound in Abbottabad, near the capital Islamabad, U.S. President Barack Obama said it was “a good day for America.” Speaking at a ceremony to celebrate winners of the Medal of Honor, Obama praised the “anonymous heroes” who took part in the operation. He said: “We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are always there on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed. As commander-in-chief, I could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform.”

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the chief of NATO, vowed the organization would remain fighting in Afghanistan despite the death of bin Laden. “As terrorism continues to pose a direct threat to our security and international stability, international cooperation remains key and NATO is at the heart of that cooperation,” he said in a statement. “NATO allies and partners will continue their mission to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremism, but develops in peace and security.”

The U.N. and the European Parliament also welcomed the news. Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, said: “The death of Osama bin Laden, announced by President Obama last night, is a watershed moment in our common global fight against terrorism. The crimes of al-Qaeda touched most continents, bringing tragedy and loss of life to thousands of men, women and children.”

Barack Obama announces the news that bin Laden had been killed. He said it was “a good day for America.”
Image: White House.

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, said the news “will be welcomed right across our country” and was a “massive step forward,” but warned the death of bin Laden “does not mark the end of the threat we face from extremist terror.” Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi said: “This is a great outcome in the fight against evil, in the fight against terrorism, a great outcome for the United States and for all democracies”.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said the killing of bin Laden was a “decisive strike” at al-Qaeda. “At his command and in his name, terror was enforced into many countries against men women and children, Christians as well as Muslims,” she said. “Osama bin Laden suggested that he was operating in the name of Islam, but in reality he makes a mockery of the fundamental values of his own and every other religion.”

Several Asian countries also said bin Laden’s death was a step forward in the war against terrorism. Chinese spokeswoman Jiang Yu said “China has taken note of the announcement. We believe the death of Osama bin Laden is a milestone and a positive development for the international anti-terrorism efforts.” Japan, Malaysia and Singapore also welcomed the news.

Australia pledged not to withdraw forces from Afghanistan after the announcement. “Osama bin Laden declared war on innocent people and today he has paid the price for that declaration,” Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, said. “The mission in Afghanistan will continue,” she added, saying al-Qaeda “will continue”. Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, said bin Laden was a “promoter of the ideology of hatred and was the chief of a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of victims, especially in Muslim countries,” and “justice has been done” for the victims of al-Qaeda attacks.



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April 25, 2011

Australian PM Gillard pressured to address human rights crackdown in China

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Australian PM Gillard pressured to address human rights crackdown in China

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File photo of Julia Gillard.
Image: MystifyMe Concert Photography.

The international organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to publicly address China’s recent crackdown on dissidents, during her visit to the country from April 25th to 28th.

In an open letter HRW called on Prime Minister Gillard to address the increasing use of repressive force in China. According to HRW at least 39 lawyers and activists have been arrested and between 100 and 200 others have been victims of repressive measures such as house arrest, since February 16th.

Prime Minister Gillard is currently on a tour of Asia which included a stop in the disaster hit regions of Japan. She told Australian media before departing that she would “of course be raising human rights (with China).” “Our view of course is that we raise human rights. We have a human rights dialogue with China. That dialogue was in session as recently as December last year.”

HRW’s Asia advocacy director Sophie Richardson said that whilst Prime Minister Gillard has expressed concern in Canberra, “the test is whether she will do so publicly in Beijing”

The issue of human rights in China is of particular interest in Australia following the disappearance – and feared arrest – of Australian citizen and pro-democracy activist Yang Hengjun in China last month. The political blogger and writer disappeared in Guangzhou in March and although he has since resurfaced, he has not publicly stated exactly what happened during the two day period that he was missing.



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April 7, 2011

ACLU, EFF challenging US \’secret\’ court orders seeking Twitter data

ACLU, EFF challenging US ‘secret’ court orders seeking Twitter data

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Logo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Logo of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Late last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed objections to the United States Government’s ‘secret’ attempts to obtain Twitter account information relating to WikiLeaks. The ACLU and EFF cite First and Fourth amendment issues as overriding reasons to overturn government attempts to keep their investigation secret; and, that with Birgitta Jonsdottir being an Icelandic Parliamentarian, the issue has serious international implications.

The case, titled “In the Matter of the 2703(d) Order Relating to Twitter Accounts: Wikileaks, Rop_G, IOERROR; and BirgittaJ“, has been in the EFF’s sights since late last year when they became aware of the US government’s attempts to investigate WikiLeaks-related communications using the popular microblogging service.

Case background

2009 File photo of Bradley Manning.
Image: Daniel Joseph Barnhart Clark.

The key objective of this US government investigation is to obtain data for the prosecution of Bradley Manning, alleged to have supplied classified data to WikiLeaks. In addition to Manning’s Twitter account, and that of WikiLeaks (@wikileaks), the following three accounts are subject to the order: @ioerror, @birgittaj, and @rop_g. These, respectively, belong to Jacob Apelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp.

Birgitta is not the only non-US citizen with their Twitter account targeted by the US Government; Gonggrijp, a Dutch ‘ex-hacker’-turned-security-expert, was one of the founders of XS4ALL – the first Internet Service Provider in the Netherlands available to the public. He has worked on a mobile phone that can encrypt conversations, and proven that electronic voting systems can readily be hacked.

In early March, a Virginia magistrate judge ruled that the government could have the sought records, and neither the targeted users, or the public, could see documents submitted to justify data being passed to the government. The data sought is as follows:

  1. Personal contact information, including addresses
  2. Financial data, including credit card or bank account numbers
  3. Twitter account activity information, including the “date, time, length, and method of connections” plus the “source and destination Internet Protocol address(es)”
  4. Direct Message (DM) information, including the email addresses and IP addresses of everyone with whom the Parties have exchanged DMs

The order demands disclosure of absolutely all such data from November 1, 2009 for the targeted accounts.

The ACLU and EFF are not only challenging this, but demanding that all submissions made by the US government to justify the Twitter disclosure are made public, plus details of any other such cases which have been processed in secret.

The Manning connection

Gun camera footage of the airstrike of July 12, 2007 in Baghdad, showing the slaying of Namir Noor-Eldeen and a dozen other civilians by a U.S. helicopter.
Image: WikiLeaks.

Bradley Manning, at the time a specialist from Maryland enlisted with the United States Army’s 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was arrested in June last year in connection with the leaking of classified combat video to WikiLeaks.

The leaked video footage, taken from a US helicopter gunship, showed the deaths of Reuters staff Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen during a U.S. assault in Baghdad, Iraq. The wire agency unsuccessfully attempted to get the footage released via a Freedom of Information Act request in 2007.

When WikiLeaks released the video footage it directly contradicted the official line taken by the U.S. Army asserting that the deaths of the two Reuters staff were “collateral damage” in an attack on Iraqi insurgents. The radio chatter associated with the AH-64 Apache video indicated the helicopter crews had mistakenly identified the journalists’ equipment as weaponry.

The US government also claims Manning is linked to CableGate; the passing of around a quarter of a million classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning has been in detention since July last year; in December allegations of torture were made to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the conditions under which he was and is being detained.

Reports last month that he must now sleep naked and attend role call at the U.S. Marine facility in Quantico in the same state, raised further concern over his detention conditions. Philip J. Crowley, at-the-time a State Department spokesman, remarked on this whilst speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; describing the current treatment of Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”, Crowley was, as a consequence, put in the position of having to tender his resignation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The United States Government versus WikiLeaks

Logo of WikiLeaks.

Despite his native Australia finding, in December last year, that Assange’s WikiLeaks had not committed any criminal offences in their jurisdiction, the U.S. government has continued to make ongoing operations very difficult for the whistleblower website.

The result of the Australian Federal Police investigation left the country’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, having to retract a statement that WikiLeaks had acted “illegally”; instead, she characterised the site’s actions as “grossly irresponsible”.

Even with Australia finding no illegal activity on the part of WikiLeaks, and with founder Julian Assange facing extradition to Sweden, U.S. pressure sought to hobble WikiLeaks financially.

Based on a State Department letter, online payments site PayPal suspended WikiLeaks account in December. Their action was swiftly followed by Visa Europe and Mastercard ceasing to handle payments for WikiLeaks.

The online processing company, Datacell, threatened the two credit card giants with legal action over this. However, avenues of funding for the site were further curtailed when both Amazon.com and Swiss bank PostFinance joined the financial boycott of WikiLeaks.

Assange continues, to this day, to argue that his extradition to Sweden for questioning on alleged sexual offences is being orchestrated by the U.S. in an effort to discredit him, and thus WikiLeaks.

State-of-the-(Black)-Art, or CyberWarfare

Logo of Twitter.

Wikinews consulted an IT and cryptography expert from the Belgian university which developed the current Advanced Encryption Standard; explaining modern communications, he stated: “Cryptography has developed to such a level that intercepting communications is no longer cost effective. That is, if any user uses the correct default settings, and makes sure that he/she is really connecting to Twitter it is highly unlikely that even the NSA can break the cryptography for a protocol such as SSL/TLS (used for https).”

Qualifying this, he commented that “the vulnerable parts of the communication are the end points.” To make his point, he cited the following quote from Gene Spafford: “Using encryption on the Internet is the equivalent of arranging an armored car to deliver credit card information from someone living in a cardboard box to someone living on a park bench.

Continuing, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) expert explained:

In the first place, the weak point is Twitter itself; the US government can go and ask for the data; companies such as Twitter and Google will typically store quite some information on their users, including IP addresses (it is known that Google deletes the last byte of the IP address after a few weeks, but it is not too hard for a motivated opponent to find out what this byte was).
In the second place, this is the computer of the user: by exploiting system weaknesses (with viruses, Trojan horses or backdoors in the operating system) a highly motivated opponent can enter your machine and record your keystrokes plus everything that is happening (e.g. the FBI is known to do this with the so-called Magic Lantern software). Such software is also commercially available, e.g. for a company to monitor its employees.

Seal of the Catholic University of Leuven.

It would also be possible for a higly motivated opponent to play “man-in-the-middle”; that means that instead of having a secure connection to Twitter.com, you have a secure connection to the attacker’s server, who impersonates Twitter’s and then relays your information to Twitter. This requires tricks such as spoofing DNS (this is getting harder with DNSsec), or misleading the user (e.g. the user clicks on a link and connects to tw!tter.com or Twitter.c0m, which look very similar in a URL window as Twitter.com). It is clear that the US government is capable of using these kind of tricks; e.g., a company has been linked to the US government that was recognized as legitimate signer in the major browsers, so it would not be too large for them to sign a legitimate certificate for such a spoofing webserver; this means that the probability that a user would detect a problem would be very low.
As for traffic analysis (finding out who you are talking to rather than finding out what you are telling to whom), NSA and GCHQ are known to have access to lots of traffic (part of this is obtained via the UK-USA agreement). Even if one uses strong encryption, it is feasible for them to log the IP addresses and email addresses of all the parties you are connecting to. If necessary, they can even make routers re-route your traffic to their servers. In addition, the European Data Retention directive forces all operators to store such traffic data.
Whether other companies would have complied with such requests: this is very hard to tell. I believe however that it is very plausible that companies such as Google, Skype or Facebook would comply with such requests if they came from a government.
In summary: unless you go through great lengths to log through to several computers in multiple countries, you work in a clean virtual machine, you use private browser settings (don’t accept cookies, no plugins for Firefox, etc.) and use tools such as Tor, it is rather easy for any service provider to identify you.
Finally: I prefer not to be quoted on any sentences in which I make statements on the capabilities or actions of any particular government.

Views of a security expert

Wikinews also consulted French IT security researcher Stevens Le Blond on the issues surrounding the case, and the state-of-the-art in monitoring, and analysing, communications online. Le Blond, currently presenting a research paper on attacks on Tor to USENIX audiences in North America, responded via email:

Wikinews

Were the US Government to obtain the sought data, it would seem reasonable the NSA would handle further investigation. How would you expect them to exploit the data and expand on what they receive from Twitter?

  • Le Blond: My understanding is that the DOJ is requesting the following information: 1) Connection records and session times 2) IP addresses 3) e-mail addresses 4) banking info
By requesting 1) and 2) for Birgitta and other people involved with WikiLeaks (WL) since 2009, one could derive 2 main [pieces of] information.

Logo of the Tor project.

First, he could tell the mobility of these people. Recent research in networking shows that you can map an IP address into a geographic location with a median error of 600 meters. So by looking at changes of IP addresses in time for a Twitter user, one could tell (or at least speculate about) where that person has been.
Second, by correlating locations of different people involved with WL in time, one could possibly derive their interactions and maybe even their level of involvement with WL. Whether it is possible to derive this information from 1) and 2) depends on how this people use Twitter. For example, do they log on Twitter often enough, long enough, and from enough places?
My research indicates that this is the case for other Internet services but I cannot tell whether it is the case for Twitter.
Note that even though IP logging, as done by Twitter, is similar to the logging done by GSM [mobile phone] operators, the major difference seems to be that Twitter is subject to US regulation, no matter the citizenship of its users. I find this rather disturbing.
Using 3), one could search for Birgitta on other Internet services, such as social networks, to find more information on her (e.g., hidden accounts). Recent research on privacy shows that people tend to use the same e-mail address to register an account on different social networks (even when they don’t want these accounts to be linked together). Obviously, one could then issue subpoenas for these accounts as well.
I do not have the expertise to comment on what could be done with 4).
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png As I believe Jonsdottir to be involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), what are the wider implications beyond the “WikiLeaks witchhunt”?
  • Le Blond: Personal data can be used to discredit, especially if the data is not public.

Liberty, and the Electronic Frontier

Having been alerted to the ongoing case through a joint press release by the ACLU and EFF, Wikinews sought clarification on the primary issues which the two non-profits saw as particularly important in challenging the U.S. Government over the ‘secret’ court orders. Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director for the EFF, explained in more detail the points crucial to them, responding to a few questions from Wikinews on the case:

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png As a worse-case, what precedents would be considered if this went to the Supreme Court?
  • Rebecca Jeschke: It’s extremely hard to know at this stage if this would go to the Supreme Court, and if it did, what would be at issue. However, some of the interesting questions about this case center on the rights of people around the world when they use US Internet services. This case questions the limits of US law enforcement, which may turn out to be very different from the limits in other countries.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Since this is clearly a politicised attack on free speech with most chilling potential repercussions for the press, whistleblowers, and by-and-large anyone the relevant U.S. Government departments objects to the actions of, what action do you believe should be taken to protect free speech rights?
  • Jeschke: We believe that, except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals’ private Internet communications in secret. We also believe that Internet companies should, whenever possible, take steps to ensure their customers are notified about requests for information and have the opportunity to respond.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Twitter via the web, in my experience, tends to use https:// connections. Are you aware of any possibility of the government cracking such connections? (I’m not up to date on the crypto arms race).
  • Jeschke: You don’t need to crack https, per se, to compromise its security. See this piece about fraudulent https certificates:
Iranian hackers obtain fraudulent httpsEFF website.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png And, do you believe that far, far more websites should – by default – employ https:// connections to protect people’s privacy?
  • Jeschke: We absolutely think that more websites should employ https! Here is a guide for site operators: (See external links, Ed.)

Birgitta Jonsdottir responds

Finally, Wikinews approached the Icelandic politician, and WikiLeaks supporter, who has made this specific case a landmark in how the U.S. Government handles dealings with – supposedly – friendly governments and their elected representatives. A number of questions were posed, seeking the Icelandic Parliamentarian’s views:

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How did you feel when you were notified the US Government wanted your Twitter account, and message, details? Were you shocked?

Birgitta Jonsdottir’s Facebook profile picture.

  • Birgitta Jonsdottir: I felt angry but not shocked. I was expecting something like this to happen because of my involvement with WikiLeaks. My first reaction was to tweet about it.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What do you believe is their reasoning in selecting you as a ‘target’?
  • Jonsdottir: It is quite clear to me that USA authorities are after Julian Assange and will use any means possible to get even with him. I think I am simply a pawn in a much larger context. I did of course both act as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks in relation to the Apache video and briefly for WikiLeaks, and I put my name to the video as a co-producer. I have not participated in any illegal activity and thus being a target doesn’t make me lose any sleep.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Are you concerned that, as a Member of Parliament involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), the US attempt to obtain your Twitter data is interfering with planned Icelandic government policy?
  • Jonsdottir: No
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png In an earlier New York Times (NYT) article, you’re indicating there is nothing they can obtain about you that bothers you; but, how do you react to them wanting to know everyone you talk to?
  • Jonsdottir: It bothers me and according to top computer scientists the government should be required to obtain a search warrant to get our IP addresses from Twitter. I am, though, happy I am among the people DOJ is casting their nets around because of my parliamentary immunity; I have a greater protection then many other users and can use that immunity to raise the issue of lack of rights for those that use social media.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Wikinews commentary.svg
Do you believe the U.S. government should have the right to access data on foreign nationals using services such as Twitter?
Add or view comments
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The same NYT article describes you as a WikiLeaks supporter; is this still the case? What attracts you to their ‘radical transparency’?
  • Jonsdottir: I support the concept of WikiLeaks. While we don’t have a culture of protection for sources and whistleblowers we need sites like WikiLeaks. Plus, I think it is important to give WikiLeaks credit for raising awareness about in how bad shape freedom of information and expression is in our world and it is eroding at an alarming rate because of the fact that legal firms for corporations and corrupt politicians have understood the borderless nature of the legalities of the information flow online – we who feel it is important that people have access to information that should remain in the public domain need to step up our fight for those rights. WikiLeaks has played an important role in that context.
    I don’t support radical transparency – I understand that some things need to remain secret. It is the process of making things secret that needs to be both more transparent and in better consensus with nations.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How do you think the Icelandic government would have reacted if it were tens of thousands of their diplomatic communications being leaked?
  • Jonsdottir: I am not sure – A lot of our dirty laundry has been aired via the USA cables – our diplomatic communications with USA were leaked in those cables, so far they have not stirred much debate nor shock. It is unlikely for tens of thousands of cables to leak from Iceland since we dont have the same influence or size as the USA, nor do we have a military.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Your ambassador in the US has spoken to the Obama administration. Can you discuss any feedback from that? Do you have your party’s, and government’s, backing in challenging the ordered Twitter data release?
  • Jonsdottir: I have not had any feedback from that meeting, I did however receive a message from the DOJ via the USA ambassador in Iceland. The message stated three things: 1. I am free to travel to the USA. 2. If I would do so, I would not be a subject of involuntary interrogation. 3. I am not under criminal investigation. If this is indeed the reality I wonder why they are insisting on getting my personal details from Twitter. I want to stress that I understand the reasoning of trying to get to Assange through me, but I find it unacceptable since there is no foundation for criminal investigation against him. If WikiLeaks goes down, all the other media partners should go down at the same time. They all served similar roles. The way I see it is that WikiLeaks acted as the senior editor of material leaked to them. They could not by any means be considered a source. The source is the person that leaks the material to WikiLeaks. I am not sure if the media in our world understands how much is at stake for already shaky industry if WikiLeaks will carry on carrying the brunt of the attacks. I think it would be powerful if all the medias that have had access to WikiLeaks material would band together for their defence.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Wikinews consulted a Belgian IT security expert who said it was most likely companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, would have complied with similar court orders *without advising the ‘targets*’. Does that disturb you?
  • Jonsdottir: This does disturb me for various reasons. The most obvious is that my emails are hosted at google/gmail and my search profile. I dont have anything to hide but it is important to note that many of the people that interact with me as a MP via both facebook and my various email accounts don’t always realize that there is no protection for them if they do so via those channels. I often get sensitive personal letters sent to me at facebook and gmail. In general most people are not aware of how little rights they have as users of social media. It is those of uttermost importance that those sites will create the legal disclaimers and agreements that state the most obvious rights we lose when we sign up to their services.
Wikinews
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Has there been any backlash within Iceland against US-based internet services in light of this? Do you expect such, or any increase in anti-American sentiments?
  • Jonsdottir: No, none what so ever. I dont think there is much anti-American sentiments in Iceland and I dont think this case will increase it. However I think it is important for everyone who does not live in the USA and uses social services to note that according to the ruling in my case, they dont have any protection of the 1st and 4th amendment, that only apply to USA citizens. Perhaps the legalities in relation to the borderless reality we live in online need to be upgraded in order for people to feel safe with using social media if it is hosted in the USA. Market tends to bend to simple rules.
Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Does this make you more, or less, determined to see the IMMI succeed?
  • Jonsdottir: More. People have to realize that if we dont have freedom of information online we won’t have it offline. We have to wake up to the fact that our rights to access information that should be in the public domain is eroding while at the same time our rights as citizens online have now been undermined and we are only seen as consumers with consumers rights and in some cases our rights are less than of a product. This development needs to change and change fast before it is too late.

Ongoing U.S. Government versus WikiLeaks fallout

The U.S. Government continues to have issues internationally as a result of material passed to WikiLeaks, and subsequently published.

Within the past week, Ecuador has effectively declared the U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges persona-non-grata over corruption allegations brought to light in leaked cables. Asking the veteran diplomat to leave “as soon as possible”, the country may become the third in South America with no ambassadorial presence. Both Venezuela and Bolivia have no resident U.S. ambassador due to the two left-wing administrations believing the ejected diplomats were working with the opposition.

The U.S. State Department has cautioned Ecuador that a failure to speedily normalise diplomatic relations may jeapordise ongoing trade talks.

The United Kingdom is expected to press the Obama administration over the continuing detention of 23-year-old Manning, who also holds UK citizenship. British lawmakers are to discuss his ongoing detention conditions before again approaching the U.S. with their concerns that his solitary confinement, and treatment therein, is not acceptable.

The 22 charges brought against Manning are currently on hold whilst his fitness to stand trial is assessed.

Related news

Wikinews
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
  • “US State department official resigns after Wikileaks comments” — Wikinews, March 13, 2011
  • “US military brig officials order whistle-blowing suspect to sleep naked” — Wikinews, March 7, 2011
  • UN probing allegations US is ‘torturing’ soldier over leaks” — Wikinews, December 23, 2010
  • “Australian Federal Police say Wikileaks committed no crime” — Wikinews, December 17, 2010
  • “US intelligence analyst arrested over Wikileaks video” — Wikinews, June 9, 2010

Sources

Wikinews
This article is a featured article. It is considered one of the best works of the Wikinews community. See Wikinews:Featured articles for more information.

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April 1, 2011

Treasury reveals cost of carbon tax on Australian families

Treasury reveals cost of carbon tax on Australian families

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Image: MystifyMe Concert Photography.

Treasury documents released today under the Freedom of Information (FOI) act reveal that Australians could face up to an A$863 rise in household costs per annum if the government proceeds with its plans to put a tax on carbon emissions.

The documents reveal an a annual price rise of $218.40 for electricity, $114.40 for gas, $187.20 for petrol and $88.40 for food for the average household. The treasury modelling was based on a $30 carbon tax, but also estimated other prices such as a $40 tax which predicted a rise of over $1,100 to the average household’s annual budget. However, they do not take into account the compensation deals and offsets promised by the government if a price is put on carbon.

After viewing the treasury modelling, Treasurer Wayne Swan and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet released a joint statement saying without the finalization of compensation packages it is too early to predict price rises. “No final decisions on the starting price or assistance have been taken and therefore it is far too early to speculate on any potential price impacts,” the statement said. Until the final design and modelling have been settled, anyone who uses these figures to scare families about prices is engaging in a dishonest, misleading scare campaign.”

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the figures demonstrated the toll a carbon tax would have on Australian families. This just demonstrates that the Government has known all along that its carbon tax won’t clean up the environment but it will clean out your wallet,” he said. That’s right and this is $863 a year in extra burden that the Australian people shouldn’t have to pay. This is an $863 a year hit on families’ cost of living. Families are doing it tough as things stand. They don’t need a bad situation made much, much worse by Julia Gillard’s carbon tax.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has also officially opposed the adoption of a carbon tax. A resolution was passed by all 30 members at their general meeting to reject the Federal government’s plan.



Sources

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