Over-reaching on digital surveillance

Australia became a global leader in the area of digital surveillance of its population.

The Australian Parliament passed new laws that will see the expansion of the powers of Australia’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain access to citizens’ digital travels. The justification for this is the usual line about protecting us from fraud and terrorists and the more sinister elements like paedophiles.

The new digital surveillance laws means that any law enforcement and intelligence agency can request the digital records of Australian citizens.

While there are some so-called provisions to provide a modicum of protection to citizens, there will undoubtedly be pressure to ‘stream line’ those provisions to make sure that warrants can be sought retrospectively.

Think I’m joking? There’s already precedent for it – the anti-terrorism laws introduced by the Howard Government.

Sadly, just like the anti-terrorism laws, these laws go too far and are completely unnecessary. There already exists under the current legislation the means to conduct on-going digital surveillance of Australians use of the Internet and email. Indeed Australia already participates in one the world’s largest email surveillance programs called Echelon.

The response from the world has been to express outrage; and predictably the laws have been met with mere indifference here in Australia. There is a small pocket of concerned citizens but hardly the numbers needed to make the government and opposition understand that such laws are not appropriate in open society. It also has to be said that these laws are very different to the laws to censor the Australia’s internet access.

Crucially it leads to more difficult questions about the future application of such laws; and how these laws will be used when foreign nationals and companies demand data and information. In the past Australia has proven to be pretty weak at protecting the interests of its citizens here and abroad, so it is of great concern that Australians are now exposed to less protections of their privacy and personal information.

There is also sadly a large amount of confusion between this legislation and the National Security Inquiry. A lot of the NSI is based around streamlining processes and interfaces between Australia’s federal law enforcement and security agencies. Of course this means it makes it easier for different agencies to share all kinds of information; as well as make it easier to gain access to warrants and similar tools in order to more quickly move against possible ‘targets’. It’s very possible that the digital surveillance laws were rushed through so that they could be included in any streamlining.

And it would seem that this is the outcome that has been sought given the new push for internet service providers to keep records

And I also have to point out that this has nothing to do with the censorship debate either.

The censorship debate is about the federal government forcing internet service providers to automatically censor a list of sites deemed to be inappropriate for Australian consumption. This would mean that the internet is filtered before it reaches our screens.

Other posts of interest:

Article One

Article Two

Article Three

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