The Guardian 26 September, 2007

More draconian laws:
Democratic rights trampled




In the latest attack on privacy and civil liberties the Howard Government has bulldozed legislation through Parliament to hand more draconian powers to ASIO and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). These new powers will allow ASIO and the federal and state police forces to demand that phone companies and internet service providers (ISP) stream information to them just minutes after phone calls are made and websites visited. This turns ISPs and phone companies into accessories to Howard’s attack on democratic rights. If they do not comply they could be shut down as some web pages have already been closed.

The agencies will be informed of what websites and chatrooms you have visited or downloaded. The laws will also allow authorities to track internet conversations and will officially be able to do their spying for up to three months without obtaining a warrant. Just before the three month period is up they can drop the spying and then resume for another three months of spying after a short recess.

The Australian Privacy Foundation expressed its concern at the new laws. Without prior warning, the Government, through Communications Minister Helen Coonan, is proposing to provide the AFP with powers to censor the Internet and notch up fear among internet users.

An even worse aspect is that ISPs throughout the country are to be the vehicle for censorship, by being required to block Internet content.

These draconian powers would apply to a vast array of content which the AFP may "have reason to believe" "induces" or "facilitates" any criminal offence, or is even "likely to have [that] effect". An adviser to the Minister said that justification for such measures is unnecessary.

"This Government’s extremism has reached new heights", said the Chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, Roger Clarke.

"How can a politician claim the right to hold office if they set out to undermine the critical democratic right to freedom of speech, and blatantly decline to evaluate the impact of measures put before the Parliament?"

The new laws also allow agencies to secretly track people via their mobile phones.

Misuse

The Law Council of Australia warned that the new powers were "far more amenable to misuse or overuse by law enforcement agencies".

Already ASIO and the AFP have the powers to detain anyone who they may consider to be "suspicious". If you have any contact in any way with someone who is "a person of interest", you can be arrested, held in isolation and forbidden to contact your family or employer to tell them where you are.

You must answer questions or face five years’ imprisonment. You will also be committing a criminal offence if after you are released you tell anyone where you were or what happened to you. You will also face prosecution if you go to your MP to complain or if you give details to you doctor of what has happened to you.

Most of the provisions put in place under cover of "anti-terrorism" laws are in four pieces of legislation — ASIO legislation, The Commonwealth Crimes Act, the Commonwealth Criminal Code and the National Security Information Act.

Background information

Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content) Bill 2007 available at: http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/view_document.aspx?ID=2686&TABLE=BILLS

The key clause:

If the AFP Commissioner has reason to believe that Internet content is a crime or has terrorism related content, the Australian Communications and Media Authority must notify the content to ISPs so that the providers can deal with the content in accordance with procedures specified in an industry code or industry standard (for example, procedures for the filtering, by technical means, of such content).

The key definition:

Crime or terrorism related content means any of "[content that] encourages, incites or induces the commission of a Commonwealth offence", "[its] purpose is to facilitate the commission of a Commonwealth offence", or "[content that] has, or is likely to have, the effect of facilitating the commission of a Commonwealth offence".

The Bill was not visible in the List of Bills at close of business on Wednesday September 13, but was tabled during the morning session of Parliament of Thursday September 14. The Federal ALP voted for these measures too so a change of government is not going to repeal the legislation.

Be awake! Be alarmed! Defend your democratic rights! The time is five minutes to midnight!

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