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Australian Senate greatly expands surveillance powers

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Australian Senate greatly expands surveillance powers
by Valentin Cartillier

Three national security bills were rushed through Parliament in late August allowing for greater police and intelligence agency powers. The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2021, which included 60 amendments to existing legislation, was supported by the Liberals and Labour. However, the Greens party had some reservations about the heightened police powers. The Bill passed the Senate on the 25th of August.

The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 (the Identify and Disrupt Bill), greatly extends the online power of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), allowing both agencies to

“disrupt data by modifying, adding, copying or deleting data in order to frustrate the commission of serious offences online; and make minor technical corrections.”

The Bill amends the Surveillance Devices Act 2004 to allow for police to apply for

“network activity warrants to enable the AFP and ACIC to collect intelligence on serious criminal activity by permitting access to the devices and networks used to facilitate criminal activity.”

Finally, changes to the Crimes Act 1914 will allow for

“account takeover warrants to enable the AFP and ACIC to take over a person’s online account for the purposes of gathering evidence to further a criminal investigation; and make minor amendments to the controlled operations regime to ensure controlled operations can be conducted effectively in the online environment.”

On paper, these amendments are allegedly supposed to undermine the anonymity of people on the dark web to prevent the illegal activity which is carried out there. However, Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe has stated that

“Unsurprisingly, the two major parties are in complete lockstep with each other and are leading us down the road to a surveillance state.”

These are far from idle words. ASIO has been casting a wide net over what it considers to be “ideologically motivated violent extremism,” and various police forces throughout the country have been far from scrupulous when it comes to accessing the data of civilians to assist them in criminal matters. For example, the police in WA got caught accessing their COVID-safe app to help solve a crime. While it might have been out of sheer laziness, what is more troubling is that they already have far greater powers to access location data. It is also important to note that these amendments don’t just enhance the powers of the AFP and ACIC, they also apply to ASIO. These agencies already have tremendous power to access citizens’ data, whether it be location, private messages, or otherwise. Here is a basic rundown of the three bills that were amended.

  • The Foreign Intelligence Amendment Bill 2021 allows ASIO to monitor Australian citizens it believes to be acting on behalf of a foreign power
  • The Identity and Disrupt bill allows police to take control over a person’s online account to modify it in able to obtain evidence, even if the person in question is not suspected of a crime
  • The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Sunsetting Review And Other Measures) renews existing counter-terrorism powers, including the ability to hold people in “preventative detention”

The speed with which all of these amendments were rushed through is a cause for alarm. With expanded policing and surveillance powers comes a far greater scope for abusing them. It creates a one-way street where the state is allowed access to all of our data while the average citizen can’t even access their own to see if there’s been any interference.

 

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