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.
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.
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.
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. 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.”
Responding to the Attorney-General’s refusal to publish more than 5,500 submissions on the Government’s proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, the Pirate Party has lodged a freedom of information for the release of those documents. The refusal to release these documents has been referred to as “ironic” given the amendments were designed to improve freedom of speech in Australia. In May this year the Attorney-General announced the Government was reconsidering the amendments.
Brendan Molloy, Councillor of the Pirate Party commented: “This is an unusual and overwhelming number of submissions. In our experience legislative inquiries and reviews are unlikely to reach 100 submissions. The fact that over 5,000 were received demonstrates an obviously enormous public interest in the legislation, and opposition must have been extreme for the Government to be so tight-lipped on these submissions. There is no decent reason why these submissions should not be made available to the public.”
“This Government has shown a worrying tendency against transparency in the ten months it has been elected. There has been a pattern of refusal to operate transparently, from refusing to release departmental briefs even after freedom of information requests were made to the expansive and secretive scope of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’. The Government has refused to allow the Human Rights Commissioner to visit the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island for the preposterous and bureaucratic reason that the Commission’s jurisdiction does not extend past Australia’s borders. In addition to all of this, the appalling track record of the current and former governments has overburdened the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. It takes several months for the OAIC to review rejected freedom of information requests, and instead of providing more resources, the Abbott Government is axing it!“
The leak of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement’s environment chapter reveals enormous flaws in the draft Agreement. It fails to adequately address serious environmental concerns, and is the product of lax public consultations and a lack of transparency. As a very vocal critic of the negotiating practices behind the TPP, Pirate Party Australia urges greater transparency in the Agreement so that experts and the wider public have an opportunity to contribute to a genuinely positive treaty.
An analysis of the draft environment chapter by Professor Jane Kelsey of the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law notes that although the chapter “addresses matters of conservation, environment, biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and resources, over-fishing and illegal logging, and climate change … Instead of a 21st century standard of protection, the leaked text shows that the obligations are weak and compliance with them is unenforceable.” Professor Kelsey highlights that the investment chapter in particular threatens the efficacy of the environment chapter, especially as it is likely to contain investor-state dispute settlement provisions.
“There is little doubt that over the coming weeks there will be an enormous amount of criticism levelled at this leaked chapter”, commented Melanie Thomas, Pirate Party candidate for the Seat of Griffith in the upcoming by-election. “This is healthy and necessary to make the citizens of Australia and other participating nations aware of what is being negotiated on our behalf. What is unhealthy is the contempt the negotiating parties have clearly shown for public participation. As the leak is further analysed, we will become aware of the sham that public consultations have been, and how negotiators have taken on board very little of the constructive criticism provided. The reality is that a transparent, participatory approach is the only way to ensure the TPP and future agreements meet standards that are acceptable to the public.”
Pirate Party Australia congratulates the Greens’ successful motion in the Senate to compel the Government to make the final text of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) public prior to it being signed.
“Having this far-reaching agreement finally made available for public scrutiny will be an enormous win for transparency and democracy in Australia,” commented Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia. “Leaks of draft text from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement indicate substantial implications for intellectual property and investment, but it has so far been impossible to determine the extent of the Agreement and whether or not it will require changes to domestic law.”
The Party remains, however, critical of the contemporary practice of excluding the public from the treaty negotiation process, as has been seen during the negotiations of the TPP, Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The Department of Foreign Affairs and its counterparts in negotiating countries have actively prevented proper discourse with the public, failed to negotiate transparently, attempted to stifle media scrutiny and provided inadequate public consultation both here and abroad.