Real news from the privacy world

New Law in Australia Will Enable Agents to Monitor the Entire Internet

Australian Senate passed a first tranche of stronger anti-terrorism bills on Thursday night. The bills will give much more power to the domestic spy agency Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). The senate agreed to the tranche with 44 votes to 12.

Once the the new bills are legislated Australian spies will be able to monitor all Australian internet after getting a single warrant. Individuals accused of disclosing classified information will face up to 10 years in jail. Currently, for example, individuals that identify ASIO agents face up to a year in prison – 10 times less time than it is planned to inprison after the legislation is enforced.

The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 is almost guaranteed to pass the House of Representatives. The voting is expected to be held on Tuesday or later in the week.

The legislation will allow authorized ASIO officers to declare any operation as “special”. In certain circumstances the new bill also gives ASIO immunity for civil and criminal liability. The increased power by the organization scares lawyers, academics and other that this power may be abused.

When the operation gains status – “special”, ASIO agents will have all rights to access any computer on a computer network that is suspected to have been used by the monitored target. The thing that worries the most is that it theoretically enables ASIO to observe the entire internet since it is a network that connects other networks. Furthermore, the bill does not state any information whether the organization can legitimately observe the entire internet.

Senator Scott Ludlam and the Australian Greens proposed to limit the maximum number of computers monitored on the network to 20 per one warrant. However, the amendment failed to gain more support and the restriction was not included into the bill.

Other senators proposed amendments to protect whistleblowers but just like proposal of Scott Ludlam it did not receive enough support.

After the warrant is obtained ASIO agents will be able to copy, modify or even delete data stored in the monitored network. Furthermore, it allows to store contents of communications instead of plans to store metadata for up to two years.

Most of the skeptics of the new legislation consider the bill to be too broad since there are no clear restrictions set for the agents once they obtain the warrant and the operation is declared to be “special”. For instance, Australian Lawyers Alliance is afraid that the bill will have “a freezing effect” on security reporting.

Even though that the bill mentions journalists, according to Senator Brandis the legislation targets persons that leak confidential information to the masses. As an example Brandis mentioned Edward Snowden who formally worked as a US National Security Agency contractor.

After the legislation had passed the senate, Senator Ludlam was very concerned about the future of privacy that was hard fought for and is a result of decades of work. Actions from Australian government are worrying him that they are taking country’s security system to a wrong direction.

Senator Xenophon who also opposed the amendment proposed that ASIO would have to make a public report with the number of devices inspected by the agents each year. However, this proposition was also voted against because it would reveal ASIO’s capabilities.

The second bill was introduced to the Senate next Wednesday and is scheduled to be debated next month. Meanwhile, the last – third bill, is going to be introduced to the Senate later this year.

Second bill of the amendment targets foreign fighters and the last bill should enable organizations to collect phone and internet metadata of a two year period.

The approval of this amendment shows that governments are not afraid of ignoring civilians’ right to a privacy. Therefore, we should take actions to protect our identity and actions on the internet. One of the most accessible options that provide a high security levels for your virtual life is a VPN. If a person wants to he can remain anonymous under a VPN 24/7.

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