Australia’s new anti-terror laws will allow spy agency to monitor entire internet

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

September 25, 2014

There is alarming news out of Australia as the government confirms new anti-terrorism laws will allow the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to monitor the entire internet.

Amid the worsening crisis in the Middle East, which has led to increased fear of terrorist attacks at home, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 (pdf) has been labelled ‘urgent’, and is expected to pass in the senate this week. The purpose of the Bill is set out in an accompanying Explanatory Memorandum (pdf),

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’).

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 nature of these ‘additional powers’ are extremely worrying. As explains,

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”.’

Further, the new law would give authorities carte blanche to search any computers anywhere, without the need to notify the operators of those 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. The executing officer would not be required to notify operators of computers not on search premises if data held on those computers is accessed under the warrant.

On Wednesday Senator Brandis confirmed that under the legislation, ASIO would be able to use just one warrant (issued by the director-general of ASIO or his deputy) to access numerous devices on a network,

There is no arbitrary or artificial limit on the number of devices.

This effectively means that ASIO could legally monitor the entire Australian internet with just one warrant, should it choose to do so.

With only the Greens and Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm so far saying they will oppose the legislation, it is likely to pass with full cross-party support, despite Senator Scott Ludlam of the Greens urging restraint,

I think this Parliament is being bullied to pass something in the heat of a national security crisis that we will later regret, as we regretted an earlier tranche of legislation that we passed in 2005.

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