from the terrorists-have-already-won dept
Recently, Techdirt has been following the Australian government's moves to bring in intrusive new surveillance powers. The "justification" for all this is, of course, "terrorism", which has become the lazy politician's excuse for everything, and has already led to episodes of ridiculous over-reaction in Australia. So it hardly comes as a surprise that the worsening situation in the Middle East has brought forth even more of the same, in the form of the "Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014" (pdf). An accompanying Explanatory Memorandum (pdf) gives a good summary of its rationale:
1. Australia faces a serious and ongoing terrorist threat. The escalating terrorist situation in Iraq and Syria poses an increasing threat to the security of all Australians both here and overseas. Existing legislation does not adequately address the domestic security threats posed by the return of Australians who have participated in foreign conflicts or undertaken training with extremist groups overseas ('foreign fighters').
The Bill is a huge collection of amendments to dozens of existing laws, including those that regulate police search powers. Here's CNET's description of a major change in this field:
2. This Bill provides a suite of measures which are specifically designed to strengthen and improve Australia’s counter-terrorism legislative framework to respond to the foreign fighter threat. It will provide additional powers for security agencies to deal with the threat of terrorism within Australia and that posed by Australians who participate in terrorist activities overseas. It will further counter terrorism through improving border security measures and by cancelling welfare payments for persons involved in terrorism.
The Bill introduces the concept of a "delayed notification search warrant" -- often referred to in the United States as a 'no-knock warrant' -- which would allow Australian Federal Police to search premises without prior warning and "without having to produce the warrant at the time of entry and search".
The Explanatory Memorandum details an important new capability relating to computers:
As computers and electronic devices are becoming increasingly interconnected, files physically held on one computer are often accessible from another computer. Accordingly, it is critical that law enforcement officers executing a search warrant are able to search not only material on computers located on the search premises but also material accessible from those computers but located elsewhere. This provision would enable the tracing of a suspect's internet activity and viewing of material accessed by the suspect through the use of that equipment.
That seems rather broad; an article in the Sydney Morning Herald reveals just how broad:
On Wednesday afternoon, [Australian Attorney-General] Senator Brandis confirmed that under the legislation, ASIO [Australia's spy agency] would be able to use just one warrant to access numerous devices on a network.
Whether or not new powers are needed to address the problem of "foreign fighters" returning home, clearly that ability to monitor the entire Australian Internet with just one warrant is completely disproportionate, an assault on citizens' privacy, and ripe for abuse by the authorities. It underlines once again that abrogating basic freedoms in order to "fight terrorism" simply means the terrorists have already won.
The warrant would be issued by the director-general of ASIO or his deputy.
"There is no arbitrary or artificial limit on the number of devices," Senator Brandis told the senate.
This means that the entire Australian internet could be monitored by just one warrant if ASIO wanted to do so, according to experts and digital rights advocates including the Australian Lawyers Alliance, journalist union the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and Electronic Frontiers Australia.