NSW

Social security privatisation and income management profiteering

Last updated: 23/08/2019

The cashless debit card, or the Indue card, (I will call it CDC for the rest of this article), is about more than ‘helping social security recipients that are alcoholics, and, or drug and gambling addicts to get help’, narrative. Depending on which trial, or experiment that your postcode is in and if you’re on a disability payment, or a carer payment, or one of a long list of trigger and restrictable payments (listed at the end of this article), that includes the stillbirth payment, you will be put on the CDC.

This is about the privatisation of government services via taxpayer funded infrastructure, set up by private operator, Indue Ltd (Indue). It’s been set up to open up billions of dollars worth of income management, for the financial and commercial sectors. Income management has now become a product to sell. Whether that be from vendors charging fees to access their goods or services, or from the banks charging inward banking fees and overdraft fees. The Indue terms and conditions for the CDC absolves itself of hidden fees: ‘We are not responsible for any fees imposed by third parties.’

There is a litany of stories from those on the CDC about it not working at places where it is meant to and the fees involved, fees for rent transfers, fees for shopping at Coles, fees and defaults of up to $26 because Indue hasn’t paid loans on time. Despite all of this there is much more to come on the CDC agenda.

The ‘Cashless Debit Card Technology Report’, was a blueprint set out for the government in 2017 by Andrew Forrest, his Minderoo Foundation, and senior executives from the banking and retail sectors. It includes the CDC becoming a multi-issuer card opening it up for the banks to issue cards, for commercial tie-ins with reward partners such as AFL and supermarkets for loyalty schemes; CDC’s with commercial branding on it; CDC training rolled into the Responsible Service of Alcohol; and the monetisation of the data relating to the CDC; if there’s a buck to be made, it’s been thought of.  

It is also of note that the CDC is uncannily similar to a program in America, called SNAP, (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). It began as food-stamps for those on low incomes or on welfare. The food-stamps were eventually replaced with a debit card system called EBT, (Electronic Benefit Transfer), which is provided by private contractors under the guise of saving the government money with the printing costs. As an EBT vendor, Walmart in particular benefits greatly from the program with a guaranteed income stream worth 18% of the whole SNAP program, or $US 13 billion. It’s in their best interests if the amount on the card is raised and they provide lobbyists to keep tabs on any looming cuts to it.

I’m in no way ignoring that some communities don’t have real problems with alcohol, drugs, crime and violence in their towns that needs urgent attention. The purpose of this article is to create more detail and awareness than has been reported to date. Too much of the media reportage has been more about Liberal and Liberal National Party spruiking perceived benefits of the CDC in a seemingly attempt to manufacture the consent of the community rather than detailed analysis. Is a plastic card issued by a private company is really the answer? There are other initiatives in place such as justice reinvestment that is working and transforming towns such as Bourke, involving the whole community without government or private company intervention. More about that in the conclusion of this article.    

Indue Ltd is not a bank

It’s a payment transfer business. If you Google https://binlists.com/ for more details about the BIN (Bank Identification Number) for the CDC, which is: 438875. You will see that the card is issued by Mbna America Bank in Australia. If you look up the same number for more details via https://www.bindb.com you will see that strangely, Indue Ltd is listed as the issuing bank.

Screenshot (51)

Is Indue sending millions of dollars worth of social security payments out to an American bank and back to Australia again? Why is Indue exempt from the Anti-money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act?

Some background

The cashless debit card (CDC) is Andrew Forrest’s version of the BasicsCard, which started out in the Northern Territory (NT) in Indigenous communities. He also wants to put those that are currently on the BasicsCard onto his CDC, taking the management of the BasicsCard out of the hands of the government and into those of Indue. The CDC trials arose from the government accepting a key recommendation from Andrew Forrest’s 2014 review – ‘Indigenous Jobs and Training: Creating Parity’.

To start the CDC trials the government had to first get around Social Security Laws. These laws were designed to protect social security recipients from third parties taking payment from them without their consent. They did this by making changes to the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 inside of the CDC legislation with the: ‘Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015’. Once the card is authorised by the cardholder it’s deemed as consenting not only to the CDC trial but also to Indue’s hefty terms and conditions. 

Those on the CDC receive 20% of their payment into their own bank account, while the other 80% is transferred to private operator, Indue, making it the legal property of Indue. It’s also important to know that because Indue is not a bank, they don’t have to answer to anyone, they’re also not signatories to the Centrelink Code of Operation or the ePayments code. 

John Howard also had to make changes within the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, for the NT Intervention to occur, which also led to income management there, more about this and the origin of income management in Australia, here.

The plan by the Liberal and the National Party has always been for the CDC to be rolled out nationally for those of working age, it’s articulated very clearly in both of Andrew Forrest’s  reviews. Billions of dollars can potentially become the property of Indue or the banks to dole out to social security recipients. His 2017 report also makes it very clear that government subsidies for businesses is expected for further implementation of the CDC. The Nationals also voted in August last year for every Australian under 35 years on a Parenting payment, Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance to be put on the CDC.    

The National Party connection and their privatisation push with SERCO 

The CDC contract was won by Indue back in 2009. The Federal President of the National Party, and former Liberal National Party MP, Larry Anthony, helped set Indue up and was Deputy Chairman of their board until 2013. He also runs SAS Consulting Group (SAS), a political lobbying group that is registered with the federal government, Indue was listed as one its clients. Indue strangely disappeared off of the government register in August last year. SAS has amongst others, another private operator, Serco as one its clients. Serco won a pilot contract from the government in October 2017 to answer Centrelink phones as a solution for long waiting times. No doubt the 1,200 jobs cut from the Department of Human Services (DHS), in the 2017 budget made the situation worse, as well as the 1,300 that were culled in the 2018 budget. When you do the math, was it intentional? As of April this year, the government has now outsourced 2,750 DHS jobs to Serco. There are also connections with Larry Anthony’s family trust, Illangi Pty Ltd, in that they subcontract to Indue and the other one is Unidap Solutions, of which Larry Anthony is director, it provides IT and technical support not only for Indue, but also for the federal government. There are no individual shares owned by LNP members, despite the rumours. 

So, who are Indue’s shareholders?

It’s complex and not direct, Indue does far more than the cashless debit card. There are financial institutions such as credit unions, and building societies that are members of COBA (Customer Owned Banking Association), that use their financial services.

Indue’s clients: http://australia-banks-info.com/bsb-numbers/indue-ltd-bsb-numbers/

To be Indue shareholders though they must be using Indue’s Authorised Deposit taking Institution (ADI), services. They’re eligible for voting shares of no more than 15%, if they hold shares higher than this they’re converted to shares that don’t have voting rights. At one stage Indue looked into becoming a bank: ‘Indue is a mutual owned by mutual lenders and would need to change its constitution to be able to sell shares by itself.’ They have since changed strategy, preferring to focus on becoming a leading e-payment partner.  

How much are the CDC contracts worth?

In 2016 the cashless welfare card trials were originally slated to cost taxpayers a total of $18.9 million. According to the government tender, the original contract for Indue was worth $7,859,509 million, (media reports rounded it up to $8 million), it crept up to $13,035,581.16 million, a year later. That’s just the Indue part, if we add the remaining $10.9 million for the other contracts involved in the income management program, we get a total of $23,935,581.16.

There were 1,850 participants in the trial, so the cost of the total cost of the card works out to be $12,938.15 per person.

Using the maximum Newstart allowance of a single person as an example, which is $535.60 per fortnight; they would receive $13,925.60 for the year.

Add the Indue layer and the total is $20,971.86 per person, add the other contracts relating to the CDC and it’s $26,863.75 per person.

Update: 23/08/2019 – The initial $7,859,509 million contract (CN3323493) cost for the original cashless debit card trials, according to the online tenders to date, has now jumped to $38,786,915. There has also been recent amendments for two other Indue contracts: (CN3522852), which relates to card services, it was $3,683,026, it’s now $4,549,276; and the contract for the Indue cards (CN3398456), it was $840,000, it’s now $2,540,000. For context there are currently 11,600 people in the trials, pricey pieces of plastic. 

If we add the amended figures to the bold figure above we get $45,795,891

CDC trial costs and details, hidden behind commercial-in-confidence tender processes 

In September last year after the Senate came back after the Malcolm Turnbull spill and Parliament was shut down, Senator Fifield and his advisers represented the government in the Senate regarding the CDC expansion to Hinkler. The reason that I mention this is because Fifield up until that point had, had nothing to do with the CDC trials or policies, and it only added to the lack of transparency surrounding the costs involved. They claimed that the costs per participant was getting lower and was projected to be around $2,000 per person for the new trial, and that the oft quoted $10,000 per person was a running cost. When questioned further about the total cost for the new trial and the ones so far, they hid behind commercial-in-confidence, confidential tender processes and contracts not signed yet. They also said that they would release the Goldfield figures in full after 4-years or in 2022, well after the trials are due to finish. What was also revealed was that a cost-benefit analysis for the CDC was never considered, but that one was being done internally and that they don’t know when it will be finished. The government also doesn’t know what the profits are of the companies involved in the CDC trials.

Inadequate support services

Very little money has been set aside for services that are offered to communities to entice them onto the card. Using a recent example from the senate, the projected CDC cost of $2k per person in Hinkler amounts to $13.4 million, yet only $1 million has been set aside for support services. It is unclear how much money has been awarded to stakeholders or services that Indue has chosen to assist it with the CDC but there is one in particular that has been noted by people in Hinkler. David Batt of the Liberal National Party, is the State Member for Bundaberg. He is also the Chairman of Impact Community Services, which is a shopfront for those needing assistance with setting up the CDC, and a job services provider. I’m not suggesting that he has done anything wrong, just wondering what other indirect connections without tender processes are going on that are associated with the CDC.    

The CDC trials

The CDC began as trials in the disadvantaged and remote areas of Ceduna, in South Australia, and the East Kimberley, in West Australia in 2016. Anyone of working age and receiving the Newstart Allowance, Disability Support Pension, Parenting Payments, Carers Payment, and Youth Allowance, in these locations were forced onto the card. Nobody has really questioned why those on disability or carer payments need income management. Danny Ulrich, from Kalgoorlie, cares for his disabled 18-year-old brother, he doesn’t know why he has been given a CDC if it was designed to target alcohol-related behaviour.

“As a carer we’ve been put in with everyone else and put on the card,” Mr Ulrich said.

The trials have since been rolled out to the Goldfields in West Australia in 2018 and to Hinkler in Queensland this year. The differences with the latest trial being that it went ahead despite many in the community opposing it with many peaceful rallies and calling for the money to instead be spent on education, training and jobs. There is a big difference between politicians and stakeholders wanting the CDC for the community, and what the whole community wants.

The Hinkler trial is only for those aged 35 years and under who receive Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance (Job seeker), Parenting Payment (Single) or Parenting Payment (Partnered). Top-up income payments that people receive while under-employed have also been included in the Hinkler trial. Under-employment is a growing problem in Australia.

The numbers of those on the CDC in each region have increased with each trial. Ceduna began with around 800, East Kimberley with around 1,300, the Goldfields with around 3,600 and around 6,000 people in Hervey and Bundaberg (Hinkler). The original amount of those to be put on the CDC the trials was 10,000 it is now 15,000.

Trials that never end, assisted with a cherry-picked report

The 3-part Orima Report was commissioned by the government and is being used by the government, to not only extend draconian, income management measures, but also to quantify its success in the Senate and by Liberal and National Party politicians spruiking the CDC to the media and other communities. Social and political researcher, Eva Cox sums up the report perfectly in a Facebook post, on The Say No Seven page :   

“The whole data set of interviews, quantitative and qualitative, are very poorly designed and not likely to be valid data collection instruments. I’d fail any of my research students that produced such dubious instruments.”   

The reports includes a lot of spin, asks respondents for their ‘perceptions’ at times, and includes retrospective responses, for questionnaires. The Say No Seven page, has been following all three of the reports closely, they crunched the numbers at the start of this month, when the final Orima report was released. An example cam be found on page forty-six:

“At Wave 2, as was the case in Wave 1, around 4-in-10 non-participants (on average across the two Trial sites) perceived that there had been a reduction in drinking in their community since the CDCT commenced.”

This approach means that you focus on the minority of responses, rather than the majority of responses. 6-in-10 not perceiving any reduction in drinking around town. It reads a lot differently than the latter.

Another example used a lot and also quoted in the Minderoo Foundation report from 2017, is: ‘For card users at 12 months: 41% of drinkers said they were drinking less; 48% of drug users said they were using drugs less; and 48% of gamblers said they were gambling less.’ Again making the reader or listener focus on the minority of responses.

Independent analysis of the report by qualified researchers, found many serious flaws within the report. The Auditor General Grant Hehir, also wasn’t convinced due to the lack of analysis, monitoring and evaluation of the trial. He also found that there was a failure to properly measure baseline data (data collected at the beginning or before a research project to compare with data collected during and after), making it hard to know what impact the trial had really had. Doctor Elise Klein, Janet Hunt, Senator Rachel Siewert, ACOSS and so many others have made submission after submission to the government, about the negative responses from people on the CDC relating to increased financial hardship, and flow-on social effects, only to be ignored.

The CDC narrative changes

A baseline report for the Goldfields trial was finally released in February this year but it’s commencement is vague, it says that it’s from ‘around the time of the introduction of the CDC.’ The report found “levels of substance misuse were reported by many respondents to have reduced, and alcohol-related, anti-social behaviour and crime had also decreased”. The report also said: “However, there is some uncertainty as to whether these impacts were a direct consequence of the CDC [cashless debit card] or were linked with concurrent policing and alcohol management interventions.”

The report was by the Future of Employment and Skills Research Centre which is a research centre in the University of Adelaide. This is curious in that the CDC has been legislated to provide income support for those with alleged drug, alcohol and gambling problems, not for being unemployed. The narrative has shifted in recent months with the Minister for Social Services, Paul Fletcher announcing in a presser that the CDCT trial “…is being expanded to address unemployment.”

This completely changes what the Indue card policy was designed for, and what the government originally presented to the Senate. It’s also unclear how a minister can just announce a change in legislation like this. Below was the original goals of the CDC trials. To change it to be about unemployment makes you wonder what is the point of trials? To make it more palatable for the Senate to pass the legislation and for the public to accept over time?   

124PC  Objects

              The objects of this Part are to trial cashless welfare arrangements so as to:

                (a) reduce the amount of certain restrictable payments available to be spent on alcoholic beverages, gambling and illegal drugs; and

                (b) determine whether such a reduction decreases violence or harm in trial areas; and

                (c) determine whether such arrangements are more effective when community bodies are involved; and

                (d) encourage socially responsible behaviour.

It also means that all research and data collected by the government to date is redundant and that at the very least new legislation needs to be drawn up with what the government’s true objectives are.

Whole of community consent for the trials questioned, and paid community panels  

Claims by the government that the trial communities wanted it have fallen apart under questioning during debates in the Senate. In February last year Labor Senator Doug Cameron, asked Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, about the 86 organisations and stakeholders that were involved in the consultation process for the Goldfields expansion. It turned out that only 5 out of the 86 were positive about the CDC. Those that were positive about the CDC being introduced in their communities were given anonymity.   

IMG-6237

Every year since the CDC the government has introduced and mostly passed many amendments. Amendments such as the government establishing anonymous community panels that now include government officials in trial sites, taking it out of the hands of local councils and agencies. Paid community panels to determine whether those put on income management should be able to access more cash from their bank accounts than the 20% allocated by Indue. This also happened in the NT during the Intervention. Another one was the addition of one word, ‘was’ meaning that if you used to live in a trial area but have moved you could still be put on the card. Seemingly to stop people moving from a trial area to a non-trial one, or a welfare migration, control measure. Because the trials are rolled out by postcode it also captures those that don’t have drug, alcohol or gambling problems or are even in need of income support assistance. If you want to opt out of the CDC trial process is extremely difficult.

The latest amendment and trial expansion

Just last week the government passed another amendment in the Senate to extend all of the current trials till June 2020. Those in Ceduna will have been on the CDC for 4-years by this time. The Labor Party has also introduced an amendment that has been legislated and is now law, providing some hope for those that don’t need income support as a way to opt out off of the CD program. CDC recipients in all trial sites can exit the scheme from July this year if they’re able to demonstrate “reasonable and responsible management” of their financial affairs. Their amendment also makes the community panels more accountable for their decisions as to why someone can not be exempt from the CDC. They must provide a documented explanation.

The fear for many though is that if the government wins the federal election that they will not only repeal this legislation, but will expand and extend the trials everywhere. The government has also given an additional $70.8 million for the extension of the trials.

IMG-5989 People self-harming and suiciding due to the CDC

IMG-6234

Besides the information from the screenshot above there isn’t a lot of data relating to self-harm and suicides relating to the CDC. There was recently an ‘Inquest into the 13 Deaths of Children and Young Persons in the Kimberley Region’, and a coroners report that has a CDC recommendation that hasn’t been reported properly. Preceding Recommendation 22 the report states:

‘An evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card trial is outside the scope of the Inquest as is any recommendation that suggests a compulsion. The following recommendation is made, to be considered in parallel with, and not in substitution of, any relevant trial or program already in place, or planned.’

Followed by: Recommendation 22 – ‘That consideration be given to extending an offer of a voluntary cashless debit card program to include the entire Kimberley Region.’    

The Minderoo Foundation reported the recommendation as a reason to roll out the CDC across the Kimberley, no mention of consideration or it being voluntary. As the coroner stated the CDC trial was outside of the scope of the inquiry. Until we have one for the CDC trials we will never know how many people have self-harmed or suicided. One death or someone hurting themselves over a government policy is too many.

In conclusion

The social security and welfare of Australian’s doesn’t belong in the hands of private companies. Anyone of us can slip and fall into hardship, this is what it’s there for. There are other programs to explore that address alcohol and drug problems like in Iceland for example, where teenagers in the 1980’s and 1990’s had a huge problem with alcohol and drugs that could be tailored to fit certain communities in Australia. Unemployment could also be incorporated with the approach below.

  • They brought in curfews for teens under 16 being out at night with parents helping to patrol the streets to make sure that it happened.
  • Parents signed a pledge to not allow their kids to drink alcohol and to create more family time with them.
  • Kids are kept occupied with the government giving families a $500 voucher for after school activities.
  • Surveys are filled in by teens every year measuring different aspects of their lives such as their relations to their peers, family life, substance abuse and how they feel. A report is then created for each community within 2-months for their schools so that they can work out solutions within each community.
  • They also got politicians onside with the science with Reyjkavic spending over $100 million each year on youth activities.        

This model is now run across 35 cities in Europe and has been credited with bringing Iceland musical and sporting success.

Then there are justice reinvestment programs that I mentioned in the introduction where instead of money being spent on prisons, and law and order policies, the money is instead reinvested into the communities. The Australian Human Rights Commission has called it a “powerful crime prevention strategy.” The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee recommended 5-years ago for the Commonwealth to “adopt a leadership role” to support justice reinvestment projects and that it should fund a trial.

In the NSW town of Bourke, the Maranguka project is credited with cutting major offences by 18% and domestic violence and drug offences by 40%, and with school attendance up. This could work in communities such as Kalgoorlie, but for these projects to work they require involving the whole of the community, and the police. Brad Hazzard, the current NSW health minister, said in a Bourke meeting after marvelling at their success:

“I still shake my head in wonder as to why so much state and federal resources are coming into regional towns and not achieving the outcomes we want.”

Many people receiving social security assistance are already living in poverty, cutting them off from cash is not the answer. Let it be voluntary across the board, don’t let our capitalist society turn poverty and welfare into another money making scheme for the private sector, or to be used as a pork-barreling strategy for nonprofits in our communities. Do surveys, get to the core of the problems in each community, provide services that work, seriously look at ways to create jobs and for other ways for people to contribute back to their communities, if they’re able to do so. It’s also well overdue to  trial a universal basic income in Australia.    

These are the trigger payments that can land you on the card:

  • ABSTUDY that includes an amount identified as living allowance,
  • austudy payment,
  • benefit PP (partnered),
  • BVA, so long as the recipient has not   reached pension age,
  • carer payment,
  • disability support pension,
  • newstart allowance,
  • PgA (other than non-benefit allowance),
  • partner allowance,
  • pension PP (single),
  • sickness allowance,
  • special benefit,
  • widow allowance,
  • widow B pension,
  • wife pension,
  • youth allowance.

Here are the restrictable payments:

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article.

 

       

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Australia, we need to have an urgent chat about surveillance technology and the race for marginal votes

We live in a time where often it’s only a handful of seats that can win an election, instead of election campaigns focusing on ideas and policies, the focus is now on influencing voters to win marginal seats. Data mining and surveillance tools that were created for war zones before being picked up by the advertising industry, are now in use against civilians. Privacy laws and regulations haven’t kept up with the pace of technology, and too many people are willing to exploit these loopholes. Business models that involve data mining like Cambridge Analytica and i360 can’t exist without tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Palantir.

Everyone is scraping, selling and analysing our data it’s now about influencing our behaviour, predicting what we will do next. The co-founder of Palantir, Peter Thiel, wasn’t joking when he named his company after the Lord of The Rings stone that is ‘far seeing’. Technocrats take advantage of the fact that most of us aren’t technologically minded, especially the politicians that they pitch their technology too. This is the main-game now to try to see into the future with predictive technology, including predicting crime. In this article I will provide background about the tech giants and how they adopt each others technologies, how data is being used against marginal voters with the debut of i360 software in Australia, and what looms on the horizon. Firstly we will take a look at  Palantir and its ties and similarities to Facebook.       

What is Palantir and how is it connected to Facebook?

Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal and sold it to eBay in 2002. He took advantage of a post-9/11 world and created a company that used PayPal’s fraud-recognition software to stop terrorist attacks. This company became Palantir and was founded in 2003. Thiel provided the seed money for Facebook in 2004 and joined Facebook’s board, he is still on the board today. Mark Zuckerberg was only 19-years old at the time, Thiel soon became a mentor and friend. Zuckerberg bragged at the time about how he was able to collect data willingly from people, he called them “dumb f***s”.             

Initially the only investor of Palantir was Thiel but in 2005 the CIA’s venture arm In-Q-Tel, also became an investor. The CIA was the only customer of Palantir for the next three-years. They had the best engineers working for the company as they tested and evaluated their data mining software to predict terror attacks. Word soon got around and before long they were getting contracts from intelligence agencies, military units, and eventually police departments. Police departments in America were interested in using the technology for its ability to analyse big data to predict crime.  

Predictive crime technology goes mainstream, including in Australia

Palantir secretly began using the population of New Orleans to test its predictive crime technology in 2012 by offering its services for free. In return they were given free data relating to public records, court filings, licenses, addresses, phone numbers, social media, and non-criminal data to train its software to forecast crime. Palantir’s prediction model also used an intelligence technique called social network analysis (SNA), which looks for connections between people, places, cars, weapons, addresses, social media posts and any data stored in databases.

This information is analysed and used to predict if people are most likely to be the victim of a crime, or to commit a crime based on their connection to known victims or criminals. It’s frighteningly close to the TV series ‘Person of Interest’, there are so many things that can go wrong here:

  • A culture in law enforcement of guilt by association.
  • The profiling of citizens being analysed by an algorithm with no human oversight.
  • Privacy issues.

There is no clear evidence of predictive technology reducing crime in New Orleans. Despite this it led to more contracts for Palantir, including foreign ones and with the Australian government. There are twenty-four patents relating to Palantir in Australia, the latest tender was signed last year, it’s worth $7.5 million and ends in June 2021. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and different partner agencies use Palantir’s Fusion software, ACICs different partner agencies include: the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Tax Office, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and the Department of Human Services.

Home Affairs Department becomes an intelligence hub    

Two bills were introduced in February this year, the Identity-Matching Services Bill and the Australian Passports Amendment Bill. The first bill authorises the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, and his department to match photos against identities of citizens in various agencies without a warrant. Media reports about it say that the government was basing this bill on an FBI model, but where did they get their model from? Palantir.

Home Affairs is now a huge data collection hub akin to Palantir and it will continue to grow as it collects information, each time a user makes a request for their identity-matching services. For example, say a bank supplies CCTV footage and data with a request, the footage and all of the data associated with the request will be hoovered up into the hub. The reasons for Home Affairs using this information are very broad, and include: criminal intelligence gathering and profiling, community safety (an example is a person acting suspiciously in a crowded, public space), road safety, and the policing of activist communities and protests. The second bill allows Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop to direct the automation of sharing passport data for the purposes of national security, meaning no human oversight, just algorithms talking to each other.

Palantir patents ‘crime forecasting’ tech    

Palantir is renowned for its secrecy, the only way to tease out what they’re up to is to keep tabs on their patents. The most recent patent that was granted was in December last year and it relates to ‘crime forecasting’ technology, to help police “to know when and where crimes are most likely to occur in the future.” Another patent pending involves the data mining and analysis of billions and trillions, or petabytes, of records. For context one petabyte equates to 58,292 movies or 13.3 years of HDTV content. These could be bank transaction logs, call data records, computer network access logs, email messages of corporations or other high-volume data. 

The last patent pending involves household behaviour predictive software that analyses past behaviour in an effort to predict future behaviour. Examples detailed in the patent include obtaining data about household incomes, the number of cars belonging to a household, and your household bills. There are similarities here with Facebook’s ‘Loyalty Prediction’ tool and their ‘Household Audience’ tool. These tools allow you to target entire families in the household.  This week the Intercept obtained a confidential document that claims that Facebook is promoting their ‘Loyalty Prediction’ ad service tool. It’s meant to assist advertisers chasing users that are on the verge of disengaging with brands. The Facebook business model has always been about data collection but now it’s moving into territory where it is feeding data into a machine learning program called ‘FBLearner Flow’. Algorithms predicting behaviour aren’t foolproof and because companies are paying for these predictions, there’s a financial incentive to make sure that the predictions are correct. There is concern that Facebook could engineer results.  

Facebook has been experimenting on its users for years, their mood experiment in 2014 proved that it could change people’s emotions dependent on the content shown to them. It would be tempting to employ this method to change people’s minds about disengaging with brands. GQ reported that Google has an application for a patent in the same realm regarding an algorithm to determine a user’s mood from a “plurality of data sources”; or big data. This technology is basically social engineering and it could be used to sway voters. Next we will take a quick look at the Cambridge Analytica debacle and then on to the debut of i360 software in the South Australian election.    

The Cambridge Analytica debacle wasn’t really a data breach  

In 2014 when Cambridge Analytica data mined Facebook there was a way that anyone could do it using one of Facebook’s own tools. Facebook had a ‘Reverse search tool’ which enabled users to search for people on Facebook just by using a phone number or email address to find their profile. The feature was ‘opt out’ for users and could only be turned off in the privacy settings. You could potentially feed the tool a list of phone numbers or email addresses that could have been taken from data breaches, online leaks, or even electoral rolls. It was only this month after being warned for years by developers of the potential for using the tool to data mine, that they finally shut it down.

When Facebook learned about what Alexsandr Kogan was doing for Cambridge Analytica in 2015 they actually paid him to do consultancy work. He was also asked to explain his technique for Cambridge Analytica, and to give talks to Facebook staff about behavioural psychology. Another method that app developers like Kogan used to scrape Facebook data, is by writing code inside their apps to capture your data. It was a Palantir employee that gave Cambridge Analytica the idea to use an app to data mine Facebook. Many are extremely sceptical of Zuckerberg telling Congress recently that he is unaware of what Palantir does and if Palantir itself has ever scraped data from Facebook.  

i360 makes it debut for the South Australian election

The South Australian (SA) Liberals lost the election in 2014 because they didn’t win enough seats to form government. The leader of the party, Steven Marshall, and the SA Liberal State director Sascha Meldrum, looked to America for solutions. In 2016 they purchased a product license for i360 software, it costs around $25,000 per month. They worked together with i360 to customise the software to include Australia’s compulsory and preferential voting system. They began using i360 in 2017 giving them a headstart in targeting marginal seats for the March 2018 election. Dozens of staff and volunteers including Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy, had a dry run using i360 in the field at the SA election. i360 has been credited for the SA win. The Victorian Liberals have been using it for a while, Queensland is about to sign up and the NSW Liberals, and the Federal government are thinking about it.

What is i360?

i360 was created by Michael Palmer in 2009 with a team of nine data scientists with PhDs behind him. It started out as a database to help Republican’s catch up with Obama’s successful use of data during his 2008 campaign. In 2011 the Koch brothers helped out by merging i360 with their non-profit organisation, Freedom Partners. Millions and millions have been pumped into it by themselves and their rich, conservative allies ever since. Making it non-profit means that they can hide who the donors are as well as the money trail. i360 is no longer just a database, they offer a suite of cutting edge tools, including analysis and predictive technology for political campaigning. i360 is primarily funded by the Koch brothers. If you haven’t heard of the Koch brothers, they’re billionaires that fly under the political radar and have made a fossil fuel, fortune. Their company Koch Industries, owns and operates a massive network of oil and gas pipelines, and they make a wide range of products that include: chemicals, jet fuel, plastics, and synthetic fertilisers. They have been funding climate change denialism, to protect their interests through foundations, institutes and front groups for years including an institute in Australia, the Institute of Public Affairs. More in this link and this link, if you’d like to learn more about that. Next we will look at how i360 works, their technology will sound a little familiar.

How does i360 work?

i360 has a multi-pronged approach that involves apps, technology, analytics, predictive analysis, as well as data science, digital marketing and advertising. Over the years they’ve amassed trillions of data points on hundreds of millions of Americans. They use thousands of unique pieces of data and combine data, analytics and predictive modelling for election campaigning. Facebook and Google Adwords work alongside i360, and are their featured digital partners.

i360 predictive technology

Advanced predictive modeling enables i360 software to test the effectiveness of thousands of political ads before using them. They use segment models that go above and beyond demographics, they include issues such as whether you want to ‘cut immigration numbers’ or are in favour of ‘raising the minimum wage’. These models can also help them to predict which issue that people care about the most. Knowing these details about people enables them to tailor their ads specifically for you, they personalise the style and tone of the ad, even the aesthetics and colours. These models get updated with new data and refreshed every night. This business model has much in common with Cambridge Analytica.

i360 tracks your online movements  

According to the i360 website they have partnered with a number of ‘mobile ID matching’ services instead of using traditional cookies to track your online movements. Cookies are a small piece of data sent from website’s that you browse back to your computer to help identify you so that they can advertise to you. This works for desktop and laptop computers but isn’t good for tracking your movements on mobile devices and for tracking your activities within apps that you visit. They claim to use ‘mobile device IDs’ which are used to identify you via your mobile devices and the apps that you visit. And then there is ‘direct matching’, which matches up apps that you visit while being signed into Facebook or Google enabling you to be found on multiple devices. According to their website this service is 100% accurate, no doubt because they’re partners with Facebook and Google. In fact the technology just sounds like a jargon laden version of the ad-tracking tools that Facebook already offers. More on this below.

Facebook and Google tracks you too

The Facebook like button has a small piece of code that tracks you as well as the Facebook share button when sharing online content, and then there’s Facebook Pixel. You only need to visit a page that has one of these buttons or Pixel code attached to it for it to collect data about you. What is Facebook Pixel, you may be asking? Pixel allows you to track user movements offline with: “A piece of code for your website that lets you measure, optimise and build audiences for your ad campaigns.” It tracks your activities and reports it back to Facebook and the code doesn’t expire like traditional cookies do. Advertisers can track what users are doing offline even if they don’t have a Facebook account, it’s called ‘shadow profiling’. Google does this too, even if you don’t have a Gmail account you only need to communicate with a Gmail address for one to be created.

Asher Wolf has recently written about how the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) with an unnamed telco, did an experiment in 2016 to track people by using their mobile devices. It turned out that the telco was Telstra, the ABS said that their reasoning for the experiment was to estimate temporary populations, and to assist policy makers. It’s not too far of a stretch to assume that this data has been entered into Palantir’s Fusion software, and you have to wonder what else the ABS and the government have been secretly up to in the last couple of years since.

The ABS promptly released a statement claiming that the data that they used was non-identifiable, this argument is wrong. Technology has advanced far enough that it can re-identify anonymous people’s data.

i360 uses set top box data to tailor ads 

i360 has a TV targeting service which offers personalised TV ads that can be shown on any channel or program being watched. They’ve partnered with D2 Media (the image below is their business model), and it’s available in America through Dish Satellite TV, or Direct TV. These services and set top boxes are also available in Australia. In 2015 Dish TV partnered up with Freeview as its manufacturer, and it’s of note that Foxtel is currently in the process of transferring its cable service over to satellite. Are there plans afoot for this in Australia in the near future, or are they already in place?

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Political party’s, volunteers, contractors and representatives, exempt from Privacy Act

The last time that there was a Privacy Act review was ten-years ago. It lasted more than two-years and recommended hundred’s of reforms. Many Australians don’t realise that registered political parties are specifically excluded from the definition of ‘organisation’, so they’re exempt from the Privacy Act. Also exempt from it are political representatives (MPs, and local government councillors), volunteers for political parties, and contractors and subcontractors of political parties. One of the recommendations was for the exemption to be removed. Both major parties ignored the recommendation. In light of recent events with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook I think it’s time to remove the exemption. If political campaigning is no longer a public process and is done in private,  being exempt from the Privacy Act is no longer acceptable.

The Liberal Party database and i360 combine   

i360 has been specifically formulated to sync and capture data from the Liberal Party’s database, Feedback. Feedback is operated by Parakeelia Pty Ltd which provides the party with the software for their data to be entered into. It’s owned by the Liberal Party. Feedback consists of data obtained from door knocking, phone calls, visits to MP offices, email responses, online and call surveys, census data, and social media data. This data combined with their software enables you to pinpoint swinging voters and marginal seats like never before. Similar to Google maps you can click on a location and it will pull up everything that you need to know about a person, including a script to read to them. Volunteers can make calls from home and door-knockers are saved time by the app providing directions to the next targeted voter to win over. The apps save time door knocking and calling, as you only target voters that you need to. 

Parakeelia transfers money back to the Liberal Party, how is i360 being paid for?

In 2016 it was revealed that Liberal MPs had been paying $2,500 each to Parakeelia out of their software allowance for its services. Labor MPs also paid about the same for their database Campaign Central which isn’t owned by the party, it’s run by third-party provider Magenta Linas. Parakeelia started to transfer money from the company back to the party in 2010. In 2010 it was $12,100 with amounts continuing to rise with a 2016 transfer of $915,000. This made Parakeelia the party’s biggest donor for that financial year. There were concerns by Labor and the Greens that money was essentially being laundered through Parakeelia to boost Liberal coffers. However a limited-scope review by the National Audit Office in the same year, found that Parakeelia was not in breach of any electoral or parliamentary rules. University of Queensland Law Professor, Graeme Orr thinks that Parakeelia presents problems “deeper than strict legalities.”

“You have a question of a business built on taxpayers funds returning money to a political party: that’s problematic in a way we haven’t seen before,” he said. He thinks that these issues would be avoided if they chose their IT provider through a tender.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information after these financial years save for a vague tax return from 2016-17. We know that i360 costs at least $25,000 a month, who paid for the SA Liberals to use it and how are the financially struggling Victorian Liberals paying for it? If tax payers are, than that would be all shades of wrong and would take us  further into unchartered territory.

New entitlement rule changes opens up electoral budgets for software purchases

Following on from software allowances, late last year, new regulations for entitlement spending were quietly introduced by Special Minister for State, Mathias Cormann. Instead of receiving a $2,500 software allowance, for the first time MPs can now spend some of their electoral budget on software and services. These services include: robocalls, SMS and survey services, ‘subject to the limit of your office budget’.

Are taxpayers paying for themselves to be politically targeted?

How the NationBuilder platform compliments i360 software

i360 software needs a platform as well as a database to work. In early 2015 Indaily obtained documents that outlined how the SA Liberals were going to start training MPs and staff to use NationBuilder. NationBuilder is software that brings together services like WordPress, Mailchimp and PayPal on to the same platform. It imports things like the details of interactions with an MPs office from the Feedback database and builds profiles on people by syncing this with social media. NationBuilder also creates websites with donation platforms and provides content management. The documents describe the platform as “an electronic program where we can import emails and build profiles on voters” and how “it will track what people are liking, what they’re commenting on and add all of this information to their individual profiles.”  

“Anyone who leaves a comment on Steven’s website is sucked in by NationBuilder, and a profile is created for them.”

NationBuilder has been used by Labor and some of the Greens for the last few years or so, according to the NationBuilder website it’s used in Australia by a number of parties. NationBuilder is used by politicians of all stripes around the world, President Trump used it for his election campaign and it was the platform that was used by both sides of the Brexit campaign.

Strange misinformation campaigns during elections, becoming the norm

To look at all of this in totality I’ll briefly explain a disinformation campaign that was also in play during the SA election. An early voting website that appeared to be from the SA Electoral Commission (ECSA), was actually authorised by the Liberal State Director. The authorisation line was at the bottom of the website in a light font. There was also a range of ads distributed to mailboxes and posted on social media making out that they were from the ECSA. It is unclear who was behind all of it exactly. The website and flyers requested personal details from those that were targeted. Three-weeks before the election after receiving complaints, the ECSA said:

“South Australians are advised that, if they provide personal details in response to these flyers or via the website, these have not come to ECSA.”

“ECSA advises that you should exercise extreme caution when releasing your personal information.”    

These are tactics that are designed to deceive you and to slyly take your data, Republicans have been doing it in America for years. Every vote counts and every dirty tactic that is available is in use in Australia now. Anything that you see online like email surveys, or in your mailbox that asks for your details, be very wary.          

Study about social media’s impact on elections, partly funded by a Koch Foundation

Facebook has recently announced a commission of researchers to study social media’s impact on elections to appease the groundswell that is building against their influence in elections. They will be given unprecedented access to Facebook data. Financing for this is coming from foundations including from one of the Koch brothers, the Charles Koch Foundation. There is understandably major concern about this, they’re known for not being the type of donors that just donate and step away, they like to be involved.

Facial recognition technology, and new tools on the horizon

Despite all of the recent privacy controversy Facebook wants to be able to run facial recognition scans without your consent. Legislators in America are still considering a change to the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). For years Facebook has fought a lawsuit regarding the handling of biometric data like fingerprints or facial recognition profiles. The plaintiffs argue that Facebook’s photo-tagging system violates the law because photos that are uploaded in this way are done so without consent. It’s of note that even if you aren’t tagged in a photo, their tech can find you. Facebook wants these consent protections neutered. Free access to pictures for years including Facebook owned Instagram, has no doubt sped facial recognition technology along.

Facebook has a new tech patent to determine social class, seriously, more hereThey also have patents relating to eye activity, and the tracking of your relatives. And Google has a new tool out that will no doubt be shared and tweaked for further use in political campaigning. It’s called Plus Codes and it pinpoints locations extremely accurately. Google wanted to address the problem of high-density slums in India where just 30% have accurate locations for their addresses. There is a general election in India next year.

There is so much more that is already here and coming soon: the tracking of your car, listening to your phone calls, looking inside your house and the use of AI that studies CCTV footage to predict crime before it happens.

Is there hope?

Yes, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is working on a project called Solid. He’s working on a solution of separating apps from the data that they produce. An app built using Solid architecture would ask users where they want to store their data, ownership of your data and access to all of the data that you create. He believes that rather than our data being locked up with a company, we should have the choice of who to share or not share our data with. Who knows what innovations we could come up with ourselves and within our communities?

In conclusion

Government’s entering the surveillance game alongside Palantir is chilling to say the least. Decisions based on algorithms without our consent and with no human oversight is a dangerous path to go down. A lot of predictive technology promise governments the world but most of it is largely unproven. The current Privacy Act doesn’t protect us as it should, this isn’t Facebook being dodgy with their user terms, default options and making it impossible to opt out of things, it’s our own government. Election wise its hardly democratic or ethical to target and influence voters secretly using their own data, perhaps even charging taxpayers to do so. The misinformation tactics also need urgent addressing it’s bad enough that our data is being used to manipulate us, to misinform us at the same time for a vote is cruel and immoral.

Many thanks to all that have helped contribute to this article.