Australia Moves To Massively Expand Internet Surveillance

The Australian government has proposed sweeping changes to its surveillance and national security laws. The government’s wish list includes mandatory data retention, surveillance of social networks, criminalization of encryption, and lower thresholds for warrants. As it seeks to expand its surveillance powers, the government also wants to dilute oversight by jettisoning record-keeping requirements. This week I submitted detailed comments opposing the changes to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security.

In my comments, I argue that Australia should reject mandatory data retention. The government wants communications companies – including mobile telephone and internet service providers – to retain traffic and location data of all users for two years. This would create vast stores of data that will be at risk of inadvertent disclosure, misuse, or breach. More importantly, the policy would force private companies to act as government agents while treating every citizen as a criminal suspect worthy of permanent surveillance.

I also recommend that Australia should maintain existing record-keeping and accountability mechanisms. The government wants to replace detailed record-keeping with vague and unspecified “less process oriented” requirements. The government claims that existing accountability mechanisms “reflect historical concerns about corruption and the misuse of covert powers.” But concerns about misuse of covert powers are not ‘historical’ – rather, accountability in this area is essential to any open democracy. And oversight only becomes more important as the government expands its surveillance power.

There were 177 submissions to the Committee, coming from a variety of individuals, corporations, and civil liberties groups. The vast majority join me in opposing the government’s proposals, with mandatory data retention drawing especially strong criticism. Hopefully, the Parliament will listen to this advice.

More information is available from Green Party Senator Scott Ludlam and Electronic Frontiers Australia. Get Up has even created a video about the proposed reforms and Australians can sign an online petition asking the government to withdraw its plan for mandatory data retention.

Image credit: Graphic created by Senator Ludlam’s office and used with permission (for those unfamiliar with Australia's official iconography, it is a modified version of Australia’s Coat of Arms).

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