25 Sep 2014

Terror laws clear Senate, enabling entire Australian web to be monitored and whistleblowers to be jailed

Australian spies will soon have the power to monitor the entire Australian internet with just one warrant, and journalists and whistleblowers will face up to 10 years' jail for disclosing classified information.
The government's first tranche of tougher anti-terrorism bills, which will beef up the powers of the domestic spy agency ASIO, passed the Senate by 44 votes to 12 on Thursday night with bipartisan support from Labor. 
The bill, the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014, will now be sent to the House of Representatives, where passage is all but guaranteed on Tuesday at the earliest.
Anyone - including journalists, whistleblowers and bloggers - who "recklessly" discloses "information ... [that] relates to a special intelligence operation" faces up to 10 years' jail.
Any operation can be declared "special" by an authorised ASIO officer 
This also gives ASIO immunity for criminal and civil liability in certain circumstances.
Many, including lawyers and academics, have said they fear the agency will abuse this power.
Those who identify ASIO agents could also face a decade in prison under the new bill, a tenfold increase on the existing maximum penalty.
The new bill also allows ASIO to seek just one warrant to access a limitless number of computers on a computer network when attempting to monitor a target, which lawyers, rights groups, academics and Australian media organisations have condemned.
They said this would effectively allow the entire internet to be monitored, as it is a "network of networks" and the bill does not specifically define what a computer network is.
ASIO will also be able to copy, delete, or modify the data held on any of the computers it has a warrant to monitor.
The bill also allows ASIO to disrupt target computers, and use innocent third-party computers not targeted in order to access a target computer.
Professor George Williams of the University of NSW has warned previously the bill was too broad.
And, unlike the government's controversial plans to get internet providers to store metadata for up to two years, the bill passed on Thursday allows for the content of communications to be stored.
Most groups that had complained about the new bill also said they feared its disclosure offences went too far, with the Australian Lawyers Alliance saying they would have "not just a chilling effect but a freezing effect" on national security reporting.
Attorney-General George Brandis did not seek to allay their concerns on Thursday but said that, in a "newly dangerous age", it was vital that those protecting Australia were equipped with the powers and capabilities they needed.
When the bill passed on Thursday night, he said it was the most important reform for Australia's intelligence agencies since the late 1970s.
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.

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