Online surveillance bill a dangerous overreach

New online surveillance laws proposed by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton are dangerous, undemocratic and go far beyond what could be considered necessary and proportionate, the Human Rights Law Centre will tell a parliamentary inquiry during the week.

Senior Lawyer Kieran Pender is set to detail major concerns about the proposed legislation when he fronts the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s inquiry into the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020.

“The Government is yet to provide anything close to sufficient evidence to justify the need for the expansive new powers it is proposing,” Pender said.

“The bill cannot be allowed to proceed in its current form, and we urge the parliamentary joint committee to recommend the government substantially rewrite these proposed surveillance laws.”

The Bill would give officers of the Australian Federal Police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission access to three new types of surveillance warrants:

  • A data disruption warrant, enabling police to access digital data and perform online disruption activities
  • A network activity warrant, enabling police to collect intelligence on online activities
  • An account takeover warrant, enabling police to take over a person’s online account.

“Every increase in state surveillance has a democratic cost, and we must not underestimate the extent of that cost,” Pender said.  

“Surveillance powers intrude on people’s privacy and have a chilling effect on the exercise of political rights.

“We are particularly concerned the powers could be used to monitor the online activities of journalists and whistleblowers, who play a vital role in a functioning democracy.

“Minister Dutton has said the powers granted by the bill are intended only to be used in cases of the most severe wrongdoing. But the bill is drafted so broadly it overreaches far beyond what could be considered legitimate.

“In fact, with the current drafting, if a person who is considered likely to engage in a ‘relevant offence’ used an electronic service such as WhatsApp, it could mean that anyone who uses WhatsApp could face surveillance.”

In its submission to the inquiry, the Human Rights Law Centre highlighted a range of major concerns with the bill, in particular:

  • The powers it offers are extraordinarily intrusive, and the Bill’s ‘relevant offence’ threshold – three years’ imprisonment – is too low and should be increased;
  • The definitions provided by the Network Activity Warrants are so expansive as to be practically unlimited in scope, and could apply to individuals that have no involvement whatsoever in the relevant offence; and
  • The Bill enables the issuing of these extraordinary new warrants even where less intrusive means of gathering the same evidence or information exist.

Story Source: Human Rights Law Centre

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Benjamin Murdoch

Benjamin Murdoch is a student of international relations and journalism at Macquarie University. He is passionate about art, languages and writing, and is interested in global human rights and environmental issues. He has also done campaign work for a number of NGOs.

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