16 September 2013

Three University of Queensland media experts bring to light the ways individuals’ lives are invaded in the digital age in a documentary focused on surveillance issues that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange raises.

The documentary, The Assange Agenda, asks experts to examine the choices democracies face in the information age.

Appearing in the film are Dr Sean Rintel from UQ’s School of Journalism and Communication, Dr Sebastian Kaempf from UQ’s School of Political Science and International Studies and Dr Mark Andrejevic from UQ’s Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies.

Dr Kaempf said the issue was not new but had been confirmed because Wikileaks and more recently leaks by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, had revealed the far-reaching surveillance of ordinary citizens in democratic societies.

“They have shown the systematic extent to which data is being collected – the view seems to be that in order to find the needle you need the haystack," Dr Kaempf said.

“The 9/11 attacks changed the perspective of security apparatus. There has never been a real discussion about data collection and what happens to it, but the idea has been planted that this practice is keeping us safe.”

Dr Rintel said it was important to keep digital rights on the political agenda, drawing a comparison with climate change.

“If we had taken action on climate change 20 years ago we would have a different environment now, but climate change is hard to see on a day-to-day basis until it’s too late," Dr Rintel said.

“It is the same kind of problem with digital rights.

"Until you are held in an airport or questioned by police, data collection has no meaning for you, but when it does it’s too late to claw back.

“The biggest erosion with this surveillance is the loss of the presumption of innocence.
“We need transparency on the issue at a judicial and parliamentary level.”

The documentary, produced by Michael Weatherhead and Mike New, asked experts to look deeper into the issues that Julian Assange pursued in his failed bid for a seat in the Australian Senate. The film was released online just before the federal elections.

Other interviewees include Associate Professor Roger Stahl from the University of Georgia, who is a visiting scholar at UQ.

‘The Assange Agenda: Surveillance, Democracy and You’ will be shown at UQ early next year as part of the Film Series organised by the School of Political Science and International Studies.

Those involved with the production will take part in a Q and A session after the screening.

Media – Gillian Ievers, Marketing and Communications SBS, 07 3365 4468, g.ievers@uq.edu.au