Every day we seem to be edging closer to a 1984 totalitarian-style world. Australia has just taken a giant step towards enabling a totalitarian rule over its citizens. The Australian Parliament passed new legislation that gives the federal police virtually unrestricted powers to spy on their citizens. The new laws allow the police to gain access to social media and email accounts.
The government claims this is necessary because of terrorism, but it could be more about controlling people in general. It will enable them to monitor what you are doing online as well as who your friends are. They can also force companies like Facebook or Google to hand over information about users without any court order. This means they could get all sorts of personal data from these services, including phone calls made by individuals using those services.
Australian government rushes through new surveillance laws
The new legislation was rushed through Parliament with only two days for public consultation before the bill was introduced into Parliament. There wasn’t even time for an opposition party to read the bill before voting took place.
The new surveillance bill is perhaps the worst anti-privacy legislation to be introduced by a five-eyes country. The legislation provides three new powers for the Australia Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ASIC):
- Data disruption warrant – provides the ability to disrupt a person’s data by modifying, copying, adding, or deleting it.
- Network activity warrant – provides the ability for police to collect intelligence from devices or networks that the subject of the warrant may use.
- Account takeover warrant – provides the ability for the police to take control of any online accounts such as social media and email to gather information.
When any new legislation is rushed through under urgency, special attention should be given as to why the government needs this pushed through without the usual consultation and debate process that accompanies the introduction of new laws.
Questions need to be asked and answered as to why the legislation could not have been introduced in usual ways. Is the government trying to minimize attention to the new legislation, or do they know of an immediate threat that the bill is designed to prevent?
Either way, the new powers given to the authorities will be available for many years to come and erode the rights and privacy of all individuals.
Why does the Australian government need these new laws?
Australian Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, stated that the new powers “would enable the agencies to fight serious crime online.”
“Under our changes the AFP will have more tools to pursue organised crime gangs to keep drugs off our street and out of our community, and those who commit the most heinous crimes against children,” Andrews said.
Andrews also highlighted the success of Operation Ironside, which resulted in more than 290 people being arrested in a sting operation using a fake smartphone device that criminals assumed was private and anonymous.
“[Operation Ironside] confirmed the persistent and ever evolving threat of transnational, serious and organised crime – and the reliance of these networks on the dark web and anonymising technology to conceal their offending,” she said.
“In Operation Ironside, ingenuity and world-class capability gave our law enforcement an edge.
“This bill is just one more step the government is taking to ensure our agencies maintain that edge.”
Meanwhile, Greens senator Lidia Thorpe said she was “disappointed” that Labor and the Liberals voted in favor of the new bill.
“New warrants allow police to monitor online activity without accusing us of a crime, take over our accounts + edit our data (which could be used as evidence) + it’s easier to put us in jail. Making the AFP judge, jury and executioner is not how we deliver justice in this country.”
The new bill also requires Australian companies and IT system administrators to comply and assist police when executing a warrant or face the prospect of ten years in jail.
The bill was rushed through Parliament with little debate or discussion. It will give the Federal Police unprecedented power to hack into any computer system they wish without getting permission from a judge. They can also demand passwords for all online services used by an individual. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even dating websites like Tinder.
1984 coming to life before our eyes
This sort of legislation is commonplace in communist countries such as China, but to see this introduced into a so-called free country such as Australia begins to bring concepts of George Orwell’s 1984 story into real life.
In his book “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Orwell described how society was controlled by Big Brother through constant surveillance and thought control. He also predicted that people would live under an all-powerful government where they are forced to obey rules without question. This type of system can only lead to tyranny and oppression. It will not make us safer or more secure; it will simply enslave us.
Orwell also states, ‘We have seen what happens when you give power to men who wantonly abuse it. We must never let it happen again.’ But I ask myself if these politicians realize what they are doing? Do they understand the long-term consequences of giving the state unlimited spying powers? What about the rights of Australians? Are there any limits at all placed upon the powers given to the Federal Police? Will the police use these powers for good purposes?
The answer seems to be no! If anything, the bill makes things worse because now the police only need to have a suspicion of criminal activity, and once they get hold of your data, they can keep it forever. So why should anyone trust them with this kind of power? Why shouldn’t every citizen demand answers from those responsible?
How would these new laws be abused?
There are many avenues for authorities to abuse these new powers with minimal checks and balances in place and a history of corruption in positions of authority. It would seem only a matter of time before this new legislation is inappropriately used against Australian citizens for personal, commercial, or political gain.
Abuse of this legislation can either be intentional or opportunistic. Intentional abuse would see a person deliberately targeted for a reason beyond which the warrant expresses, perhaps to silence criticism, obtain opposition intelligence or gather information.
Opportunistic abuse may come about when an existing investigation uncovers information that an investigator may be able to benefit from, such as the discovery of commercially sensitive information, an upcoming stock company takeover, or personal relationship details.
A certain level of trust is needed here, but can we trust these unknown people to sift through all our emails, files, photos, videos, and personal information?
There are undoubtedly some bad people around, with bad intentions that threaten the community and country. Still, most people can be considered ‘good people’ but who also value privacy. The new legislation approach does not respect this and blanket considers all people a threat until proven otherwise.
This then is a further step down the already slippery slope of totalitarianism. A path that seems unavoidable now.