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.
“We can also forget about exposing wrongdoing: while ASIO will receive unreasonable and unnecessary new powers, journalists and whistleblowers who report on certain operations may face more than five years imprisonment. We have been told by the Attorney-General that the provisions are not aimed at journalists, yet no exemption to these penalties is provided and no public interest test is available. This level of uncertainty is not healthy and will make people think twice before they report information of public importance.”
Further reforms are expected in the coming months, including the introduction of a data retention regime, an expansion of detention without charge powers, and requiring those who travel to declared conflict zones to demonstrate they were there for a legitimate reason.
“The Pirate Party will continue to fight against the over-extension of surveillance powers in Australia. With the so-called ‘opposition’ goose stepping alongside the Government, they cannot be counted on to protect our democracy from the ever expanding surveillance state. Our freedom and democracy are at risk, not from terrorists but from our politicians. It is up to the people of Australia to stand up and be counted. If we allow this trend to continue we will lose the free and open society that we all hold dear,” Mr Frew concluded.