The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has recommended that Parliament pass the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014, despite acknowledging the inadequate amount of time given for public consultation[1]. The Committee recommended a number of amendments that primarily concern improving oversight of the additional powers being granted to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but also clarifying certain terms and reducing the allowable period for detention without notification and delayed notification search warrants. However, no substantial amendments have been recommended.

Pirate Party President Brendan Molloy commented: “Increased oversight will cushion the impact of these reforms, but not in any significant way. We’re still going to see people being detained for up to two hours without notification of family members or other persons. We’re still going to have search warrants where the occupier of the premises won’t be informed that their premises have been searched for up to 12 months afterwards. We’re still going to have people visiting certain areas declared guilty until proven innocent. And we’re still going to see the thresholds for law enforcement and intelligence agency action reduced.

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In response to the Senate’s passing of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 last Thursday, the Pirate Party has updated its policies to specifically oppose the Bill and support its repeal in the likely case where the lower house also approves it in the coming days[1].

The Bill makes major amendments to the ASIO Act, giving ASIO the ability to access, modify, copy and delete information on computers. ASIO may also be able to apply for a computer access warrant broad enough to cover every device on the Internet at once. Other amendments will introduce tough sentences for journalists and whistleblowers who report or disclose sensitive information, even if it is in the public interest.

The legislation also grants blanket immunity from prosecution for many illegal acts undertaken as necessary under a “special intelligence operation”, effectively granting ASIO unprecedented powers without the necessary checks and balances required by a legitimate liberal democracy.

Party President Brendan Molloy commented: “Labor has farcically waved through some of the most onerous legislation of the last decade with little more than a rubber stamp, as the Liberal Party whips up yet another fear-based storm of ‘national unity’ with insufficient evidential basis. This legislation criminalises journalism and whistleblowing, regardless of the public interest, while effectively granting ASIO agents the power to do anything they please.

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Australians have just suffered an enormous blow to their freedoms with the Senate passing legislation massively expanding ASIO’s surveillance powers and ramping up penalties for journalists and whistleblowers who report on or expose unlawful intelligence gathering operations. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (No 1) gives ASIO the ability to obtain a single warrant that could permit access to any device connected to the Internet, as well as the power to add, remove, modify and copy any data on those devices[1].

The Pirate Party is apalled that the Bill passed the Senate last night. The Bill gives vast new powers to spy agencies, attacks journalism and is a bigger threat to Australian democracy than any terrorist organisation. These are unprecedent surveillance powers, but are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Pirate Party’s Deputy President Simon Frew commented: “Parliament has just created what could be the broadest, most open-ended warrant system ever conceived. Our ‘representatives’ have deliberately avoided defining key terms, such as ‘computer’ and ‘network’, and refused to restrict the number of devices that could be accessed, which leaves us with a warrant that potentially covers the entire Internet. ASIO operatives will be permitted to access third party computers they think might help investigations, and they will be able to modify the contents without the owner’s knowledge. We simply can’t take our privacy for granted anymore.

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The Pirate Party is critical of the Government’s secrecy surrounding its most recent discussion paper on data retention. While the public is yet to see a formal proposal, telecommunications providers were given confidential advanced copies last Friday[1].

Pirate Party President Brendan Molloy commented: “No reason has been given for why the public must remain in the dark. This is a fundamentally undemocratic approach that excludes the major stakeholder — the Australian public. Botched media interviews and confused, conflicting statements over the past weeks have not provided any reassurance to Australians that the Government is competent enough to understand the enormous implications data retention has for our privacy. This is a highly controversial policy, and one that has already been rejected in the European Union precisely because it threatens privacy to such an unreasonable degree[2]. It is a complex area that needs great consideration and maximum public participation.

“No justifiable reason to store information that reveals individuals’ locations has been provided, let alone allowing access without a warrant. The Pirate Party’s position has been and continues to be that the threshold for access to stored data under existing arrangements is already too low, and must require a warrant. This extends to any further proposals.

“It also seems, despite the Attorney-General dismissing the suggestion, that the storage of information relating to download volumes is for the benefit of the copyright lobby. This was not on the cards previously, and we cannot fathom what use this information would be to the investigation of terrorism and other serious crimes.

“To mandate the retention of such vast quantities of information on all Australians is not a proportional nor necessary response to the perceived threats. The Attorney-General must immediately release this document in full, as well as future documents. Australians at large are the biggest stakeholders in these proposals, and have the right to be informed.”

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/data-retention-discussion-shrouded-in-secrecy-20140826-108fdr.html
[2] http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-04/cp140054en.pdf

In response to the recent announcement that the Government will pursue a mandatory two-year data retention regime in Australia, Electronic Frontiers Australia and GetUp! have launched a petition opposing these plans[1]. The Pirate Party, which had a similar petition tabled in the Senate in February 2013[2], is fully supportive of the initiative and encourages all Australians concerned about their privacy and incursions into their right to free expression to sign it.

The petition is available at https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/privacy/mandatory-data-retention-efa–2/sign-the-petition

“Metadata is everything and nothing if you believe what has been unthinkingly blurted by each Government minister given the opportunity to ramble aimlessly on a topic they have no understanding of[3][4],” said Brendan Molloy, President of the Pirate Party. “What is clear is that there are far-reaching, negative consequences of the introduction of any data retention regime and we are wholeheartedly against their introduction.

“Please sign this petition to show that Australians are firmly against data retention measures that would not only be ineffective at combatting crime but would also unnecessarily and disproportionately impact on our civil rights to privacy and free expression. Australians have the right not to be treated as criminals by default. We’ve fought it before, we’ll fight it again, and we’ll win.”

The significant majority (98.9% by some estimates[5][6]) of submissions made to the National Security Inquiry in 2012-13 were against the introduction of a data retention regime.

It is unclear just what data will be collected and stored under the retention regime, however it appears from comments made by the Attorney-General that it will extend as far as the websites that Internet users visit. No legislation has been proposed, making it incredibly difficult to critique the proposals in detail.

[1] https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/privacy/mandatory-data-retention-efa–2/sign-the-petition
[2] http://pirateparty.org.au/2013/02/26/data-retention-goes-back-underground-as-campaign-turns-up-the-heat/
[3] http://www.skynews.com.au/video/program_agenda/2014/08/06/agenda-security-laws-may-collect-metadata.html
[4] https://soundcloud.com/something-wonky/george-brandis-dubstep (necessary listening for all true masochists)
[5] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/sundayextra/905-segment/5655718
[6] http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/motions/motion-data-retention