TO 2023

2023 is set to be one of the most decisive years in the fight for digital rights in Australia in decades.

As 2022 draws to a close, we are seeing big shifts in the internet economy that create openings to fight for better alternatives to the business models of surveillance and tracking which have defined modern big-tech.

High profile data breaches put privacy reform on the agenda in 2022, but the real fight for privacy reform will take place next year as the long awaited review into the Privacy Act will finally be completed and legislation taken to Parliament.

We are concerned at the pace in which surveillance technology is being developed and adopted. Biometric surveillance, including facial recognition technology, is a major frontier in the fight against mass surveillance which we will be continuing to shine a light on in 2023.

Digital Rights Watch is fighting for an internet where human rights are respected so that connection and creativity can flourish. There are plenty of emerging opportunities that we must grab to begin reshaping the internet so that it works for people and democracy.

Getting privacy reform right

After years of campaigning from Digital Rights Watch and other privacy advocates, real privacy reform is finally on the agenda for next year. With serious data breaches becoming headline news, Australians are demanding action to protect their privacy and hold organisations that invade their privacy to account.

In response to these calls, the new Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has made public commitments to pushing privacy reform forward. However we are still unsure exactly what these reforms will include.

We do know that big tech and the business lobby are already pushing to water down these reforms. There are many vested interests who have built business models based on surveillance and data-collection, and they are going to fight to protect their profits.

We don’t get many chances to change privacy laws in Australia, and it’s vital that we don’t waste this opportunity to win meaningful protections for individuals and democracy. We can’t let big-business water down critical improvements to the Privacy Act, which means we need to keep up the media attention and public pressure.

Digital Rights Watch will be at the forefront of this fight to ensure that the Australian government gets privacy reform right. We will be active in the legislative process, from making submissions to meeting with key legislators and public servants.

Most importantly, we will be raising public awareness all over the country about the importance of privacy reform, being a strong voice for human rights in the media and mobilising people to keep the pressure on the government.

We know that Australians want privacy reform to rein in the power of big-tech and empower regular people to protect their privacy in the digital age. We’ll keep showing up to make sure they get it. 

Fighting the culture of surveillance

Facial surveillance is unlike other forms of surveillance we have ever experienced. When widely implemented, it enables automated and ubiquitous mass monitoring of entire groups of people, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Mass surveillance has no place in our society, and the proliferation of facial recognition technology poses a fundamental risk to human rights and freedoms.

In 2023 Digital Rights Watch will be teaming up with our friends at Electronic Frontiers Australia to fight for a national ban on facial surveillance technology. The threats posed by facial surveillance far outweigh any hypothetical benefit and we need to stop the expansion of this technology before it’s too late.

Digital rights don’t exist in a vacuum. In an environment where protest is increasingly being criminalised, growing surveillance powers are a real and present risk to democracy.

Intimidation and repression of peaceful protesters, in particular those who are concerned about the climate crisis, has been growing. In 2022 anti-terror police showed up at the homes of 30 environmental campaigers ahead of planned protests at a mining conference in Sydney. Bail conditions imposed on protesters in Sydney included demands to not use encrypted messaging apps and to grant police access to phones on demand.

Looking to 2023, we know that surveillance and police powers are increasingly being used against political organising, posing a real threat to social movements and holding those in power to account.

As the fight for real climate action continues, and with new electronic surveillance legislation set to be on the 2023 agenda, we will fight to protect democracy from surveillance overreach and unchecked police powers. 

An internet for the people

The power of big tech and their role in shaping the internet is going to remain in the spotlight in 2023.

Billions of people use social media to stay connected with friends, build and maintain community and stay abreast of local and international news.

The billionaires who own the largest social media services don’t share our interests, but they have the power to influence the relationships, news and politics of billions of people all over the world.

When Elon Musk purchased Twitter earlier this year, it highlighted the problems with leaving social infrastructure in private hands. But Twitter wasn’t the only big news from Silicon Valley.

Meta (parent company of Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp) laid off 11,000 people while Amazon fired 10,000 staff. According to a website which is tracking tech related layoffs in 2022, over 138,000 people have been let go from over 860 tech companies. With rising interest rates and a decline in digital advertising revenue, big tech has a difficult year ahead. For those of us who want a more democratic internet with less corporate control from billionaires, this creates a small crack in the status quo of the internet which we should be doing our best to leverage open.

Here in Australia, the government has announced a Senate inquiry into the digital economy in 2023. The timing for an examination of the power and influence of digital platforms couldn’t be better.

We are entering uncharted waters. We know that the internet as it exists right now isn’t working for people, but realising a better future will require resources, experimentation and collaboration between civil society, government and technologists interested in the public good.

We can use this Senate Inquiry to build momentum towards building a better internet economy. We are planning to bring together the most innovative and influential thinkers on the internet economy to discuss ways that we could democratise platforms and begin to build an internet that works for the people.

We hope to highlight the dangers of privately owned social media, propose models for building a democratic internet and push the government to play a bigger and more constructive role in creating an internet that is free of surveillance and control.

The internet, and in particular the investors and billionaires who control it, shape all of our lives. Whether we use social media or not, our news is shaped to fit the amplification algorithms of social media platforms. The data broker and AdTech industries are committed to tracking and collecting our data as we traverse the web, commodifying our every move. Decisions made automatically by machines can determine how we work or whether we receive the welfare we need.

We won’t be able to build a better democracy without building a democratic internet. 2023 is going to be a big year for Digital Rights Watch, but we can’t do this work without your support. Donate to our end of year appeal to keep our work going in 2023.


Digital Rights Watch is fighting to uphold human rights online. We need your support to continue our high impact research, advocacy and campaigning.

Donate Now