Aussie govt 'bullied' to pass security laws
Controversial anti-terrorism laws expected to pass in the Australian Senate as early as this week will give the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation the power to monitor the entire internet, the government has confirmed.
25 September, 2014
It comes as Greens senator Scott Ludlam urged senators to reconsider their vote on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014, which is likely to pass the senate either this week or early next week.
"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," Senator Scott Ludlam told Fairfax Media on Wednesday evening, before debate was due to commence.
The legislation has been labelled as "urgent" by Attorney-General George Brandis.
Australian Lawyers Association president Greg Barns said the new laws would allow ASIO to conduct surveillance on "anyone, any time, anywhere".
"There are few, if any, limits now," he said.
"And we don't have sufficient privacy protections. We have no tort of privacy, meaning we can't sue ASIO or anyone else if they invade our privacy in a gross sense or if they use [that information] illegally. You have no course of redress."
So far only the Greens and Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm have said they will oppose the bill. Labor has said they will support it as has the Palmer United Party.
This means the bill will pass even with cross-bench opposition.
The legislation redefines what ASIO can access under a computer warrant.
On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Brandis confirmed that under the legislation, ASIO would be able to use just one warrant to access numerous devices on a network.
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.
Senator Brandis argued the warrants should not be restricted, as it was not known what powers ASIO would need in the future.
"How can ... Senator Ludlam stand in the Senate today and anticipate what the needs of ASIO will be in relation to warrant-based access [in the future]," he said.
Senator Ludlam said it was important the concerns were addressed.
"They have validated it," Senator Ludlam said of the fears.
"So any device connected to any other device on the internet in the world could be tapped into [or disrupted] by a simple warrant."
Senator Ludlam introduced amendments that addressed his concerns. But the government and Labor have said they will vote against them. Other concerns he and others have raised relate to the lack of whistleblower protections in the new laws, which jail those who "recklessly" disclose intelligence information.
That would include journalists, bloggers or officials, who could be jailed for 10 years.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon said he would support the government's bill but had misgivings about it. It is understood he will support Senator Ludlam's amendments, but his support is not enough to get them through Parliament.
Rights groups have expressed concern the laws will curtail journalists' ability to write about national security matters.
When discussing the new legislation in the Senate's "committee stage" process, Senator Ludlam and Senator Xenophon repeatedly asked Senator Brandis to explain how the laws would work.
"Australia has the weakest oversight mechanisms," Senator Xenophon said.
"Australia lacks institutionalised review of surveillance programs."
The senators also raised concerns that a part of the law, which allows ASIO to delegate its powers to "affiliates", meant those outside of ASIO, like contractors, could be delegated ASIO powers.
"These are very serious concerns that the scrutiny committee has put to you," Senator Ludlam told Senator Brandis.
Senator Brandis said he had responded to the concerns in a "public" letter that was due to be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.
Senator Brandis refused to table his responses to the committee's concerns earlier.
"I found it irritating and obstructionist that he wasn't prepared to put it to us while we were debating the bill," Senator Ludlam told Fairfax.
Senator Xenophon also expressed frustration.
But Senator Brandis said his hands were tied.
"I find it unbelievable that you would spend two hours of the committee stage of the debate on an urgent bill playing procedural games and engaging in what is starting to sound a little bit like a filibuster," Senator Brandis said.
Liberal senator Ian MacDonald said he did not see what the fuss was all about.
"I am certainly one of those in Australia who is very keen to see these measures implemented, even if it does - even in a small way - [infringe on] freedoms that I previously expressed.
"I don't care quite frankly who listens in to my phone and certainly I don't have anything to hide."
Senator Ludlam said he feared the laws were being rushed through as no one wanted a terrorist-related attack to occur on their watch.
"I think there's a grain of truth in that," Senator Ludlam said.
"I think no politician on any side – Labor, Liberal, Greens, Nationals and independents - wants to suffer a terrorist attack on their watch. And that's particularly astute for the executive. Nobody wants to look back and say there were things that we could have done to make the community safer. So that's right across politics. And in fact I would say that obligation is above politics."
Audio interview from Tuesday:
Audio interview from Tuesday: