Dan O'Heirity

We Should All Be Concerned About Computer Security

I wasn’t going to write today for a whole host of reasons including work pressures, trying to find the time to set up this WordPress site, thinking about what I might do with my life, if anything, and reinstalling a piece of software known as VMWare so that I can run a virtual Linux machine on my computer. Likely the only point that will interest readers is the reason for setting up a virtual Linux machine on my computer. Essentially I have returned to the fact that I used to be incredibly conscious of my computer security, a concern which went well beyond running security software such as McAfee along with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on my computer as these will only offer a certain degree of protection despite what the VPN companies will tell you. One needs to know an awful lot more to be really secure.

I’m not going to bore everyone with the sort of security that one can run on a Linux machine, suffice to say that if one knows what one is doing then one can create the kind of secure environment on Linux that makes Windows security look laughable. Unfortunately it has been some time since I ran a virtual machine and so I am going to have to re-learn everything that I once learned about creating a completely secure Linux computer environment – well as secure as one can be without actually disconnecting from the Net – and this will take me some time because, basically, its complicated. However, I believe that effort will be repaid because I will have the piece of mind of knowing that I am not being surveiled and that my online activities are not being recorded in any way that could identify me as me.

For those of you who believe that I am being paranoid, think again. A report from an independent watchdog organization, “Freedom House” suggests that nearly 90% of the world’s Internet users are being monitored. It comes as no surprise that countries including China, Russia and Egypt are ranked as “not free” in terms of the population’s use of the Internet. However, here is the point that interests me more. It is not just oppressive regimes that are monitoring Internet users. I know there is nothing new in what I am about to say but it is useful to be reminded that surveillance is occurring in so called free or democratic countries. As an example from the report, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement allegedly used, “social media in New York City to gather information on groups protesting the administration’s immigration and gun-control policies“.  I have no doubt that this example could be expanded upon almost exponentially.

In terms of surveillance, I have an advantage in that I do not use social media. No FaceBook account. No Twitter account. No social media of any kind. However, I am well aware that without a VPN, my Internet Service Provider can record logs of everything that I do on the Internet. The same would be true for any other organization that cared to look at the sites that I am visiting. There is a Covid-19 point here. Thanks to my VPN, the Chinese sites that I have visited when researching these posts will not have been able to log my real IP address. The same will be true of the various Western governmental websites that I have visited. Now I know that these sites likely have no real interest in me but it somehow feels better to know that my identity was hidden. Whilst the future cannot be predicted, it is also feels good to know that my anti-Chinese and anti-governmental posts cannot be traced back to my computer

The University of Queensland Seems to Be Kowtowing to China

Is The University of Queensland Persecuting a Pro-democracy Student?

The only story that I will report today concerns the possible expulsion of a 4th year Philosophy student, Drew Pavlou, from the University of Queensland (UQ), on the alleged grounds that he, “prejudiced” the university’s reputation by using [his] position as an elected student representative to express support for Hong Kong’s democratic protesters“. I came across this story a couple of days ago and having read the details of the case, I signed a petition at to protest the University of Queensland’s actions. In doing so, I drew on this news article which reports that Liberal Senator James Paterson, who had been passed a copy of the UQs 2018 senior staff remuneration report by a “whistle blower”, reported to parliament that University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor, Peter Hoj, had received a $200,000 bonus based partly on his success in growing the university’s relationship with China.

This bonus was awarded despite the fact that Peter Hoj had not achieved the same success with another Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of “seeking” greater diversity in the University of Queensland’s student body. Note that it was projected that 63% of the UQs foreign students would come from China in Trimester 1, 2020. Yep, not much diversity with that number of Chinese students. At the time that I signed the position to support Drew Pavlou I wrote, roughly, that, “No matter what the ins and outs of this case, it is contemptible that the University of Queensland would bring the full weight of its resources to bare against a single student.” On the note of the “full weight of the university resources”, the document that lays out the charges against Drew is 186 pages in length. A 186 page document compile to make a case against a single student!

Beijing Seems to Be Interfering With Academic Freedom at the University of Queensland

In another news story, Clive Hamilton – “a noted expert on CCP influence operations in Australia” – is quoted as saying that, “I can only read the threat of expulsion as an attempt to silence legitimate political activism on the campus“. I would concur for the following reasons. First we have the fact that the University of Queensland hosts a Confucius Institute. On one level – the superficial and naïve level – the purpose of these institutes “is to promote Chinese language and culture, and therefore give an uncritical view of Chinese society, as well as provide direct influence inside our universities“. However, in reality, and as explained by Göran Lindblad, former vice president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and a former Swedish Parliament member, the real purpose of these institutes is “to indoctrinate people and gather information for the totalitarian regime. These are the two main goals that are not spoken“.

Matters get worse but before I tell you how, let me note that I am an academic in Australia and I have also held academic positions in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Hong Kong. If you want to spark a war with an academic, then just do something that looks like it is taking away their academic freedom, which means for academics doing something that is perceived to interfere with their teaching or their research. And yet, according to this report the University of Queensland runs a Confucius Institute on its campus and the University has apparently run four accredited courses that are financed by the Chinese Government and which present a “China approved” version of content that glosses over China’s appalling human rights record in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and mainland China. If true, Beijing is controlling content at an Australian University.

UQ first signed a Confucius Institute contract with China in 2009. The contract was renewed in 2014 and it was only in 2019 that UQ sought “explicit commitments to university autonomy over all content, standards, admissions, examinations, staffing and academic freedom” in connection with the operations of the Confucius Institute. This means that UQ had contracts in place with China for over ten years that allowed China to specify what counted as quality teaching at UQ. You can read the Confucius Institute contracts between Beijing and 11 of the 13 Australian Universities, if you want to further verify the facts of the matter. Then, if you have not done so already, watch the video from Göran Lindblad and note that Sweden has now closed its Confucius Institutes for the clear and cogent reasons articulated in this video. And what is UQ doing? It is signing up for another five year term. Go Australia.

The Chinese Consul General in Brisbane Wields a Lot of Power at the University of Queensland

The next interesting story in the University of Queensland saga – and I would highly recommend reading this story in full – ends by saying, “UQ has clearly been turned into a useful idiot of the world’s most evil autocratic regime.” How did the story arrive at this conclusion? Well, let’s take some highlights. In 2019 Hong Kong Pro Democracy protesters – Drew Pavlou included – were “violently attacked” by Chinese nationalist students. Rather than denouncing these students in the strongest terms and threatening them with expulsion should they ever engage in violent behaviour again, the University of Queensland did nothing of the sort. Rather the University “offered platitudes” and spoke of the need for “harmony”. However, faced with the case of a single student critical of China and critical also of the Vice-Chancellor, the University of Queensland is seeking to expel that student.

I’m going to provide another piece of information from this story because it is truly frightening in terms of the reach of Beijing into the Australian Higher Education system. Drew Pavlou took out what amounts to a restraining order against the “Chinese consul general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, who, Pavlou claims, endangered him by praising the “self-motivated patriotic behaviour” of the counter-protesters and, in effect, accusing Pavlou of “anti-China separatist activities”. Xu Jie is an adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland. There is a further report on UQ – or rather the question of UQs over reliance on China and its Chinese relationships but perhaps it will suffice to end with these words, “The Morrison Government should intervene. It could threaten withdrawal of funding until the university can prove it has expunged this corruption“.

The University of Queensland Says Too Little Too Late

I just came across a story published yesterday that beggars belief with respect to the leadership at the University of Queensland. Almost one year after the Chinese Diplomat and adjunct professor at the University of Queensland Xu Jie praised Chinese nationalist students for their spontaneous outpouring of patriotism, “The university’s chancellor, Peter Varghese, told Guardian Australia the controversial statement released in June last year by China’s consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, was “unacceptable” and would have breached its code of conduct“. As mentioned above, this controversial statement included Xu Jie praising, “Chinese students for confronting what he said were “anti-China separatist” protesters with “ulterior motives“. It is utterly unfathomable why it took the University of Queensland a year to denounce Xu Jie’s statements. Furthermore, to do so after 12 months means that the University of Queensland position simply carries no weight.

The diplomat, consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, remains in place as an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland meaning that a professor who praised students for acts of violence and for attacking the right to free speech on an Australian University campus still holds an honorary position at an Australian university. This is unbelievable. Xu Jie should have been immediately removed from his position at the university. However, it would appear that the University of Queensland is more concerned with removing a single student who has had some negative things to say about China. It is tempting to think that Xu Jie remains in place because of the University of Queensland’s strong ties with China, a position that has already been discussed at some length.

The final point to make is that whilst the University of Queensland has taken 11 months to condemn the words of one of its adjunct professors, it has wasted no time in singling out a student for having the temerity to exercise his right to free speech. To put this a different way, the University of Queensland remained silent on a matter that fundamentally undermined students’ right to free speech on campus whilst, at the same time, seeking to expel a student who had exercised his right to free speech. I will conclude with the words of Kevin Carrico, senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Melbourne’s Monash University, who has said that, “by appointing an official of a government openly hostile to free inquiry and speech, University of Queensland is sending the wrong message.”

First Published May 18th, 2020

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