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Roger Clarke's 'PIAs and (National) Security'

The Contested Semantics of 'Security'
and the Curious Case of PIAs
applied to National Security Initiatives

Abstract of 1 August 2016

For presentation to the
Peace Research Institute Oslo, 29 August 2016

Roger Clarke **

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Here are the PRIO home-page and PRIO's 6-page report on the presentation, plus a mirror of the report


Conversations about security generally involve people talking at cross-purposes. The reason for this is that the meaning of the term 'security' is relative to the particular values that particular stakeholders perceive in particular assets, and the particular harm that those values might come to. Yet people seldom take the trouble to clarify which stakeholders, assets, values and harm they are talking about, even to themselves, let alone to other people.

National security initiatives inherently involve clashes among alternative scope definitions. At the very heart of the matter is the conflict involved in constraining human rights in order to protect them. Appropriate decision-making about national security initiatives is therefore entirely dependent on the application of an effective evaluation process.

Results are presented of a survey of Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) undertaken in respect of Australian Government national security initiatives. Despite the enormous intrusiveness of these initiatives into the rights of everyone in Australia, and the (to date) rare incidence of their use, the evaluation processes are shown to have been uniformly and seriously inadequate.

Both the legislature and the executive have failed their obligations to Australian society. They continue to blindly accept a narrow and heavily biassed conception of security, and fail to impose either pre or post controls on the club of national security agencies.

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in Cyberspace Law & Policy at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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