The Guardian • Issue #1977

Punishment and surveillance

Senate grants intelligence agencies more power

Three national security bills have been rushed through Parliament this week allowing for greater police and intelligence agency powers. The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2021, which included sixty 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 25th 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.”

These amendments are proposed to undermine the anonymity afforded to people on the dark web in an effort to combat illegal activities which occur 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.”

This rhetoric is far from alarmist. As we’ve already seen in Guardian #1967 “WA police access COVID app” and Guardian #1955 “ASIO obscures political ideologies”, government agencies aren’t immune from abusing powers once access has been granted. 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. These amendments don’t just apply to the AFP and ACIC, they also increase the powers of ASIO. Effectively these amendments allow for three very serious breaches of a citizen’s privacy.

  • 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 working class is not afforded the same power.
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