Ball Tampering Scandal: A Way to Divert Attention from Government Misconduct

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Malcolm Turnbull media

Former English cricket captain Andrew Flintoff told the BBC on Monday that it was “absolute nonsense” that the three Australian cricketers implicated in the recent ball-tampering scandal were the only players who were involved in the deceit.

The now-notorious incident saw Australia’s Cameron Bancroft captured on television rubbing the ball with a small piece of sandpaper in Cape Town. The portrayal of the incident in the media along with remarks by the likes of Flintoff suggest that trust has not only been lost in the reprimanded players, but also in the entire Australian cricket team.

Indeed, the incident caused such fury that prime minister Malcolm Turnbull took it upon himself to publicly state that it was a “shocking disappointment” that beggared belief.

However, many were left questioning why the PM doesn’t express such indignation over more pressing matters, such as Indigenous Australians being proportionately the most incarcerated people in the world, record low wage growth, a growing homelessness and housing affordability crisis and the relentless campaign to take away legal safeguards and protections while increasing the power and weakening the accountability of the government and its agents.

The most precious thing lost

Cricket Australia sanctioned the players, who were found to have breached article 2.3.5 of its Code of Conduct, which includes bringing disrepute to the game. Bancroft was given a nine-month suspension, while captain Steve Smith and vice skipper David Warner were given twelve-month bans.

On Monday, Flintoff said he thought the penalties were too harsh, as “the crime doesn’t warrant” them. However, the suspensions may reflect Cricket Australia’s understanding that the players’ behaviour has resulted in a significant loss of trust in the gentleman’s sport.

And while trust can be lost in moments, it can take an eternity to rebuild.

Confirmed: social media can’t be trusted

Trust in social media platforms has always been dicey, especially when it comes to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Since it was launched back in February 2004, users have been repeatedly warned about the amount of personal information the social networking site is storing.

But the Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke mid-March has led millions of users to question consider severing their association with a company that claims to be about connecting people, but behind closed doors enables and conceals information about the sale of private data.

Created by former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, Cambridge Analytica is a company that used a quiz app taken by 270,000 Facebook users, which allowed them to gather the data of up to 87 million users and apply this information during the Trump presidential election campaign.

Too little, too late

In a further blow to those who use Facebook, Zuckerberg took five days to publicly address the privacy breach. And when he did, the CEO admitted the company had made a mistake, but he failed to go as far as to apology for it.

Facebook has since responded by issuing a clearer privacy policy, and restricting the access that apps have to certain data. But for many, the social media platform has done its dash. Since the news came to light, the company’s stock price has fallen by 14 percent.

It has also became clear that millions of US citizens have lost faith in their government’s ability to reign in the social media giant, as when Zuckerberg testified on Tuesday about the scandal before Congress, its aging members were unable to ask him any probing questions because they simply don’t understand the technology that was being discussed.

Panoptic surveillance in the digital era

But trust in the government in the digital age has been in its death throes since the 2013 Edward Snowden revelations laid bare the extent to which the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the agencies other Five Eyes nations were surveilling their own citizens, as well as those in foreign countries.

The documents leaked by the ex-CIA contractor showed that the NSA was collecting millions of US citizens’ telephone data, had tapped directly into the servers of nine internet companies, including Google and Facebook, and was collecting and storing 200 million text messages globally a day.

It was also revealed that British agency GCHQ had, in tapping into fibre-optic cables carrying global communications, collected more data than the NSA. And the intelligence and security agency hadn’t broken any laws.

Watchful Australian eyes

It should be borne in mind that the access security agencies have to private data is nothing new.

Established in 1946, the Five Eyes alliance allows the security agencies of the USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to collect and share private and commercial communications data with one another.

Co-convenor of the UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Community David Vaile told Sydney Criminal Lawyers® last August that “there may be programs the Australian government has in place that require a warrant… that some other participants can bypass.”

“So, the query is whether that goes around in a big network, or it can be used to break those national protections,” he explained.

However, the Abbott government saw a way to get around accessing citizens’ communications data. In mid-2014, it introduced legislation that required all telcos and ISPs to store their customers’ metadata for a period of two years.

In October 2015, these companies began storing the time and date of calls, emails, text messages and internet sessions, which is information that can be used to build up a significant profile about an individual.

Warrantless access to this data is reserved to 21 law enforcement agencies led by ASIO; however, those organisations have the power to authorise others to access the information. Indeed, it was recently revealed that access to data has been provided to a whole host of bodies and used for a range of unintended purposes including monitoring the sexual habits of army cadets and even to catch rubbish dumpers and tax evaders.

It seems the floodgates are well and truly wide open when it comes to the wholesale surveillance of the population’s personal data.

All the king’s men

Trust in governments is constantly eroding, due to scandal after scandal and act after act.

One of the most significant historical erosions of trust in government was caused by the Watergate scandal, which had reverberations in this country. It involved five men breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, and the Nixon administration’s attempt to deny any involvement.

Investigations into the botched break-in revealed a connection between the burglars and one of Nixon’s “fixers.” And while the US president didn’t order the break-in, he was involved in the subsequent cover up, and revelations surrounding this resulted in his resignation.

More recently and closer to home, our state and federal governments continue to pass laws without public scrutiny and with bi-partisan political support that remove fundamental legal protections.

In February 2016, the Chief Justice of NSW Tom Bathurst identified 397 laws which encroach upon three protections alone: the presumption of innocence, the right against self-incrimination and client legal privilege. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In addition to Turnbull’s proposed new ‘secrecy laws’, the government has already passed laws which criminalise speaking out against certain types of conduct including;

– unjustified terrorism raids,

– human rights abuses in detention centres,

– operations on offshore boats, and

– crime and corruption within governments and police forces.

Police have been given ‘shoot to kill’ powers and immunity from prosecution for acting negligently during events declared by the police minister as acts of terrorism, whether or not they ultimately turn out to be such acts. And law enforcement agents enjoy immunity from both civil and criminal prosecution where they commit heinous crimes during ‘special intelligence operations’.

Governments have passed laws against consorting, a whole host of anti-protest laws, laws against taking industrial action, public safety and serious crime prevention orders which now allow police to control peoples’ movements even if they have not committed a crime.

There are future crime prevention orders which allow people to be kept in custody without having committed a crime. Even the right to silence has been removed in NSW. The list goes on and on, and is ever-growing without a hint of public dissent.

Then there is the “stunning” hypocrisy of former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce spruiking family values while having questionable ones of his own, and recent reports of our PM investing upwards of a million dollars of his personal fortune on a hedge fund which generates a profit for him if Aussie businesses fail.

But it seems a young population which has not had to fight as hard for freedoms and protections as those abroad is loath to protect legal safeguards, and content to let leaders with questionable motives and near-identical political platforms and objectives to get away with doing as they please.

So, while middle Australia cries foul over a few sportsmen unsuccessfully trying to employ a dirty trick, people might also want to question the proposition of allowing unscrupulous governments to systematically strip away legal safeguards and protections, remove political accountability and increase state power and control.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.
Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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