How Australia's New 'Anti-Terror' Censorship Law Could Cover Up Botched Intelligence Operations

from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong? dept

As we reported a few weeks ago, Australia has passed a dreadful "anti-terror" law that not only allows the authorities to monitor the entire Internet in that country with a single warrant, but also threatens 10 years of jail time for anyone who "recklessly" discloses information that relates to a "special intelligence operation." But what exactly will that mean in practice? Elizabeth Oshea, writing in the Overland journal, has put together a great article fleshing things out. Here's her introduction:
The parliament has passed legislation that permits the Attorney General to authorise certain activities of ASIO and affiliates as 'special intelligence operations'. We can only assume that ASIO will seek such authorisation when its operatives plan to break the criminal or civil law -- the whole point of authorising an operation as a special intelligence operation is that participants will be immune from the consequences of their unlawfulness. It will also be a criminal act to disclose information about these operations.
So the Australian government can designate activities of its spy services as "special intelligence operations," which may well be illegal, and then it becomes a criminal act to disclose anything about those operations, however bad they are. Indeed, that even seems to include operations that result in death, as Oshea explains in one of her examples of what could happen under the new law:
A botched operation is conducted that results in the death of an innocent bystander (credit this suggestion to the former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor). Note that if a person with three children dies as a result of a failure to take reasonable care, her family will be unable to make a claim for the cost of raising her dependents. If she is maimed but not killed, she will be unable to make a claim for the cost of her medical care, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and the cost of raising her dependents.
That's a hypothetical case, but Oshea also lists a number of incidents that have already occurred, but which are likely to be covered by the new law -- and would thus become impossible to write about. Here are a couple of them, with links to the real-life cases:
Agents and officers raid a couple in their home and hold them captive at gunpoint for an hour, only leaving when they discovered they were at the wrong address. The couple will have no entitlement to compensation for any property or personal damage arising from imprisonment, trespass and assault.

Agents kidnap and falsely imprison a young medical student. They attempt to coerce answers from him, making making threats that go beyond what is permitted by the relevant search warrant.
There's more of the same, listing previously-reported incidents that would probably be censored in future. The post also explores legislative proposals that are equally disturbing:
The parliament is considering laws that will punish people with life imprisonment for a range of new offences associated with 'subverting society' (which is a component of the new definition of 'engaging in hostile activities'). The law contains a defence of advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action, but it is very unclear how these would be applied.
Here's the kind of thing that might get you life imprisonment in Australia in the future:
Leaking materials taken from government information systems that demonstrate serious wrongdoing (as per Manning or Snowden).

Organising and engaging in denial of service attacks – the online equivalent of a sit in – against government websites, such as that of the President, Prime Minister, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Stock Exchange.
There's also an explanation of what data retention might mean for the public. All in all, it's a valuable guide to some of the seriously bad stuff that Australia is doing. Let's just hope that other countries don't take it as a blueprint.

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Filed Under: anti-terror, asio, australia, censorship, leaks, special intelligence operations, whistleblowing


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 8:45am

    Australians of the world, can't this absurdity be challenged in courts? (honest question)

    If it can I'd think it wouldn't hold up to basic scrutiny unless we are talking about dictatorships where the constitution itself (or equivalent) is a manufactured corrupt crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 9:38am

      Re:

      But, if Australia is like the US, demonstrating standing to actually challenge crap like this is almost impossible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Australian Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 1:07pm

      Re:

      Australia doesn't have a Bill of Rights in its Constitution. There don't appear to be any Constitutional grounds for challenging it.

      Don't worry Yanks. I'm sure your government won't use my government to run illegal ops against you.

      help us... *whimper*

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 1:48pm

        Re: Re:

        I had very high hopes for Australia , most of the people I've encountered have been freedom loving folks and some of the nicest people I've met and pretty forward thinking , I'm amazed this hasn't been a big issue .

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 4:56pm

        Re: Re:

        > Don't worry Yanks. I'm sure your government won't use my government to run illegal ops against you.
        >
        > help us... *whimper*


        "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War#Origins_of_the_term":

        For forty or fifty years past, Mr. H. G. Wells and others have been warning us that man is in danger of destroying himself with his own weapons, leaving the ants or some other gregarious species to take over. Anyone who has seen the ruined cities of Germany will find this notion at least thinkable. Nevertheless, looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity.

        I'm a Canuck ("Order, and good government ..."). I feel your pain. I too am sick to death of watching this BS happen. When does Open Season on Politicians begin?

        We, The People, have got to start fixing all these broken governments we've nonchalantly put up with all these years. They are out of control and need to be put down.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 9:41am

    So they basically passed martial law.
    Great to know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 10:04am

    LIFE IN PRISON for a DOS attack, or for leaking materials?

    No, no, no. A leak might be serious, but once the person is convicted of leaking, it's not like he's going to be in a position to leak more.

    I take a dim view of DOS attacks, but unless a it results in deaths (in which case you'd have other charges to bring) it's ridiculous to give a life sentence for it. It's roughly equivalent to property damage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 11:01am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Oct 13th, 2014 @ 10:04am

      DOSing was something I always considered to be e-vandalism. Annoying but overblown in terms of damage

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Just Another Anonymous Troll, 13 Oct 2014 @ 11:25am

        Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Oct 13th, 2014 @ 10:04am

        On many targets of DoS'er ire, it's even less, taking down the site for a couple hours or so. If the site doesn't have important functions, such as a U.S. government web page, DoSing is basically just to send a public angry message. It's hardly vandalism if it has no negative effects. Who cares if the NSA website is up 24/7, no one trusts it anyway.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Techanon, 13 Oct 2014 @ 10:35am

    It's ironic (or highly hypocritical), a law labeled as "anti-terror" essentially allows government agents to spread terror and censor anyone who speaks about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 10:38am

    I could see sales of programs like KillDisk going way up in Australia. Someone could merely post information about a "special intelligence operation" and then merely use KillDisk to wipe their hard disk clean, so that prosecutors cannot get any evidence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 11:33am

      Re:

      I don't believe evidence is required. Just say 'it's classified.'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 2:02pm

        Re: Re:

        However, if they examine your hard disk and get nothing, they have no evidence that you did it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 2:12pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          If only, if they find nothing then they hit you with the original charge and destruction of evidence.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 3:17pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            KillDisk is not illegal to own or use in Australia.

            And KillDisk, unlike Evidence Eliminator, is designed so that evidence of its use can be all but impossible to detect. KillDisk has a mode which makes the disk as blank as the day is was manufactured, erasing everything, even partition information.

            Then all you have to do is re-partition, re-format, and the re-install Windows. Any traces that you destroyed data on your hard disk will not be there. What will be there is a freshly re-installed Windows.

            KillDisk is a superior product to the old Evidence Eliminator. It can erase a disk so completely, that any traces that illegal data was there, or that is was erased is not there, once the disk has been re-partioned, re-formatted, and Windows and all your programs re-installed.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              tqk (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 5:05pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              A hammer is far more effective, and cheaper. Don't trust your life to an anonymous MS Windows programmer.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Just Another Anonymous Troll, 16 Oct 2014 @ 5:06am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Or a giant magnet. Less suspicious. Then pull an IRS.
                "Oh sorry officer, my disk was accidentally magnetized and I mysteriously lost the backup. What a shame..."

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              beltorak (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 5:07pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              i don't know about killdisk, but it doesn't sound like much more than

              1. boot with linux live cd

              2. dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hda

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 11:04pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                KillDisk does more than that. It securely erases and overwrites the entire disk, making anything that was there unreoverable. By also deleting and overwriting partition information and making the whole disk blank, it also makes it all by impossible to determine what previously existed there, making it all but impossible to prove a destruction charge.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 11:01am

    you can bet your ass that these laws will spread! it seems as if every country is going down the same road, the road that removes as many rights as possible from the people and gives as many cases that can be charged as offences, resulting in as severe punishment as possible. whilst doing this, the same governments are giving as much as possible to turn the countries involved into corporations. these same things have been tried before but failed. this time it's getting closer by the day! before long, all peoples rights and freedoms are going to be scraped, just so governments can do whatever they like with absolutely no come back!
    the people need to remember what is going on here and then vote appropriately when the time comes

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, 13 Oct 2014 @ 11:22am

    Screw transparency!

    Classify everything as a "special intelligence operation".
    Now you have free reign to do whatever you like, and anyone who complains goes to jail. Oh, and no one can challenge that, because the act of declaring everything a special intelligence operation is also a special intelligence operation.
    Instant totalitarianism, just add a questionable but secret interpretation of the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 1:42pm

    The Australian Stock Exchange is a government site?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 5:22pm

      Re:

      > The Australian Stock Exchange is a government site?

      Yeah, that one struck me as odd too. Didn't those gambling addicts just shoot the world's economy in the head a few years ago?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 1:49pm

    It sounds like Australia is copying their blueprints from oppressive countries like China. The only one 'subverting society' is the Australian government itself, by placing itself beyond public accountability. This law paves the way from the AU Gov to become an authoritarian dictatorship.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Brazilian Guy, 13 Oct 2014 @ 4:38pm

      Re:

      Except that, when you look at the historical perspective, individual freedoms and basic safeties for most of the population is increasing in China (or even Russia) from the low standards that vigored, while many western countries are going in the opposite direction.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 5:31pm

      Re:

      >... 'subverting society' ...

      I'm reminded of Stalin's reply on hearing The Pope was displeased: "How many divisions does the Pope field?"

      How many votes does "society" get? Is it even registered to vote? Who gets to define society's wishes?

      I'm pretty sure that's our job, not theirs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 3:22pm

    One can also use an under the radar vpn that will not be detected.

    I run such a VPN on my Comcast Business connection. Since the servers are in my my apartment in California, which is still part of the United States, what goes through my VPN is NOT SUBJECT to Australian laws, even if the user connects from Austrlia. My servers in my apartment in California are ONLY subject to AMERICAN laws. As long as it does not break American laws, I don't care what people do on my VPN. I ONLY recognize AMERICAN jurisdiction over my servers, and if the Australians do not like that, they can kiss my sassafrass.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 6:40pm

    the law is outright fascism.

    Speak ill of those in charge and you could be arrested and charged.

    Look at the mockery the states make of the national security bit. Where everything and anything is declared a national secret even when it is not.

    If the Australian government is going to pass tyrannistic laws like this why would anyone expect them to not use these laws to supress dissent of anyone they do not like

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    the lucky country, 13 Oct 2014 @ 6:53pm

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2014 @ 11:36am

      Re:

      That ONLY applies to news outlets in AUSTRALIA. Newspapers, radio, and TV OUTSIDE of Australia ARE NOT SUBJECT to this law.

      For example, if the San Francisco Chronicle printed such a report, they would be NO SUBJECT to this law, becuase they are an AMERICAN newspaper.

      A newspaper in San Francisco is ONLY subject to AMERICAN laws, as far as what it prints.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TK, 13 Oct 2014 @ 9:54pm

    Liberal goverments in AU remove rights, labour governments don't restore them

    Our current government has been eroding rights faster than previous ones but it is following the trend here. I hate to think of the penalties imposed for Killdisk'ing potential evidence. In Victoria it has been a crime not to hand over encryption keys upon warrant for several years.

    Privacy isn't a right, neither is freedom from self incrimination. It will only get worse, the current government has a couple of years until the next election.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Oct 2014 @ 12:09am

      Re: Liberal goverments in AU remove rights, labour governments don't restore them

      And there is no guarantee that Joe Public will vote them out. This kind of thing has historically received little attention amongst the clamour for better social security policy and 'stopping the boats'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2014 @ 4:19am

    Only took about 70 odd years for fascism to take over most of the "freedom loving" countries. Hitler must be laughing his ass off in hell right now. To see those that defeated him fall to his depths

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2014 @ 4:54am

    So you are now not allowed to talk about the secret police, even if they do terrible stuff to your neighbour.

    That's quite convenient for the rulers.

    "What do you mean when you say we have a secret police.
    None of our citizens are complaining.
    Everything is fine and dandy. Sunshine and rainbows.
    Now move along citizens."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2014 @ 11:41am

    I could see VPNs picking up a lot of Australian customers. If they cannot trace you, they cannot prosecute you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 19 Oct 2014 @ 5:48pm

    Typo?

    "How Australia's New 'Anti-Terror' Censorship Law Could Cover Up Botched Intelligence Operations"

    Should Read:

    "Australia's New 'Anti-Terror' Censorship Law Is Designed To Cover Up Botched Intelligence Operations"

    As soon as you realize that YOU are the ENEMY, (officially designated as the Adversary), these little syntax errors do get a lot easier to spot and rectify. :)

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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