My university, the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), has given 22 student and staff records to the Australian Federal Police, the NSW police and the Australian Taxation Office.
Without any consultation, consent or legal advice, the university handed over students' class attendance, course details and personal information. On July 13, Edmond Tadros from the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the University of Sydney had also handed over student files.
The move has been condemned by student groups and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. According to David Bernie from the NSW CLL, the move is legal but goes against the spirit of the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act of 1998.
Peter Robson from the Resistance Club at UTS told Green Left Weekly that this blatant disregard for students' privacy just two months out from the APEC summit makes him wonder whether the police were really using the files for "criminal cases" or to assist their massive security operation in the lead-up to the September protests. Students have also been targeted by intelligence agents and told not organise against the APEC summit.
A report on APEC presented to a security conference last year stated that "in the context of the APEC meetings and events we can expect to see large-scale protests on a range of issues including anti-globalisation, the environment and climate change, the Iraq war and any number of other matters".
It continued: "While the threat of protest action in connection with APEC is certain — and we are planning for it and will manage it appropriately — there is also an overarching and persistent threat of terrorism which inevitably has an impact on the conduct of events such as APEC, either in general or directed at some of the individual leaders."
This is yet another case of how security forces are intertwining the words "protester" and "terrorist".
While the universities in question deny that they have breached student confidentiality, Robson said that they have a duty of care to the students that includes keeping student files and personal information private.
"Not only is this another attack on our civil liberties, it is further evidence of the close relationship between university administrations and intelligence agencies. It's about trying to dissuade students from organising to express their dissent", Robson said.
"But students will not be silenced. Just like the fight against the Howard government's voluntary student unionism legislation, aimed at squashing political dissent on campus, students will continue to organise and fight for a better world."
If you have heard that your university is handing over records, or you would like to get involved in the campaign to defend our rights on campus, phone Amber from UTS or Simon from the University of Sydney on (02) 9690 1977.
[Amber and Simon are activists in the Stop Bush Coalition, which is organising the September 8 protest in Sydney. Visit http://stopbush2007.org.]