“Systematic erosion of privacy”:
Parliament launches surveillance review


news The Federal Parliament has kicked off a review of and is seeking public submissions into a wide-reaching package of legislative reforms proposed by the Federal Government which the Greens have slammed as constituting a “systematic erosion of privacy” in Australia.

The package of reforms which are being promulgated by the Federal Attorney-General’s Department include a number of modifications to four pieces of legislation; The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, the Telecommunications Act, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act and the Intelligence Services Act. Information released by the Attorney-General’s Department suggests that that the changes are extremely wide-reaching. For example, the Government is seeking to modify aspects of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act that relate to the legislation’s privacy protection clauses, tests for issuing warrants, oversight arrangements and information sharing provisions between agencies, for a start.

Instead of law enforcement agencies being forced to request multiple different types of interception warrants, the legislation would be modified to allow authorities to request a new more comprehensive centralised type of warrant with multiple powers. The interception regime — which allows authorities to request Internet service providers and telcos to intercept the communications of their customers — would be extended to some types of service providers not currently covered by the legislation.

Provisions under the ASIO Act for the intelligence agency to request warrants are to be modernised and streamlined, and the agency is to gain the power to disrupt a target computer for the purposes of accessing the information on it — or even to access other third-party computers on the way to the target machine. The Government is also interested in establishing an offence which would allow Australians to be charged with failing to assist in decrypting encrypted communications.

Also on the cards is a data retention protocol which would require ISPs, for example, to retain data on their customers for up to two years. This is an idea which has proven controversial in Australia over the past several years.

In a statement issued yesterday, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is to examine the proposed reforms, noted it had consented to commence an inquiry into the package, and was requesting submissions from the public into the package until 6 August this year.

The chair of the committee, Labor MP Anthony Byrne MP, welcomed the referral of the inquiry by AGD, stating: “It is vital that our security laws keep pace with the rapid developments in technology”. Commenting on the importance of public input into the Parliament’s examination of the potential reforms, Byrne said the Committee’s inquiry will give the public an opportunity to have a say in the development of new laws in the critical area of national security.

AGD has published an extensive discussion paper on the proposed reforms, which is available here in PDF format. The committee’s terms of reference for its inquiry are also available online.

However, the proposed reforms have already attracted significant criticism from the Government’s parliamentary partner, the Greens. In a statement issued today, Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam warned the package of reforms would further expand already pervasive government surveillance powers.

“The Australian Greens will make a submission setting out our belief that Australians have a right to privacy online,” said Ludlam. “Anyone who cares about the systematic erosion of privacy should also make their voices heard through getting their submissions in by the August 6th deadline. This inquiry will likely be used to again expand the powers of spy agencies when Australians are already under a phenomenal amount of government surveillance.

Ludlam pointed out that nearly a quarter of a million telecommunications data requests were granted in 2010-11 according to the annual Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act report. “This includes detailed locational data logged by every smartphone, every minute of the day,” Ludlam wrote.

“The data retention scheme – #ozlog – long-pushed by the Attorney-General’s Department is on the agenda. This extreme proposal is based on the notion that all our personal data should be stored by service providers so that every move we make can be surveilled or recalled for later data mining. It comes from a mindset that imagines all Australians as potential criminal suspects, or mindless consumer drones whose every transaction should be recorded and mapped.”

Ludlam said the review should look to expand inadequate privacy protections. “We also need to see much tighter restrictions on how ASIO collaborates with the private sector, after the revelations in April that Commonwealth resources were being deployed to spy on environmental campaigners at the behest of the coal industry, and with the Federal Police contracting a private company to spy on civil society groups,” he said.

“In regards to the telecommunications interception – we need to see much stronger safeguards on when interceptions can be carried out and on which agencies can execute them.”

In my opinion, a number of these legislative reforms are the nightmarish stuff that George Orwell’s extremely prescient book 1984 are made of.

Any one of the proposals in this huge surveillance package which the Attorney-General’s Department has proposed could be the subject of its own independent inquiry. Data retention, mandatory decryption of private data, the ability to remotely penetrate computer systems (even unrelated systems) to gain access to evidence … it’s all fairly Orwellian, and it’s all in this package. This whole process needs to be as public as possible. If you are at all interested in protecting your own privacy or even just preventing the Government from being automatically able to see whatever information it wants at any time about any Australian citizen without due cause and process, I recommend you get involved in this process and make a submission to this inquiry.

In addition, I recommend you contact your local MP about this matter, as this is a package which is sadly likely to be supported by both sides of Parliament — it is extremely unlikely that the Greens or the Independents will be able to block it.

Image credit: Anja Ranneberg, royalty free


  1. The world over, western democracies are marching stead fastly towards total corporate totalitarianism. In the UK they do it in the open, in the US it’s done in secret.

    Only the people can stop this madness, our Governments are a lost cause.

  2. It’s time to pack it in, unplug the computers and box up the keyboard. Clearly our government has decided to step away from democracy.

    This is a very scary time indeed.

    • The flipside to that is, through such wide actions as the SOPA/PIPA/ACTA protests, the people are starting to wake up to the power they can wield.

      Maybe democracy isnt dead after all.

      Old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”…

      • “The flipside to that is, through such wide actions as the SOPA/PIPA/ACTA protests, the people are starting to wake up to the power they can wield.”

        Yes, but this is all about cyber terrorism, organised crime, terrorism, and online political groups like Anonymous.
        Recently the UK security arm MI5 reported “industrial-scale processes involving many thousands of people lying behind both state sponsored cyber espionage and organised cyber crime”.
        In addition, he said the plan to allow greater collection of communications data – such as from social networks – was a “necessary and proportionate measure” to tackle crimes, including terrorism.

        So lets get away from freaking about commercial companies and entertainment and focus on whether governments are justified OR NOT, in ramping up personal surveillance to combat terrorist groups and state sponsored cyber crime.

        • Sorry muso1, nobody was freaking about commercial companies and entertainment but you. I was merely pointing out that after an extended period of the general population accepting new laws without question, they have now successfully shown democracy to work. Its a start.

          SOPA/PIPA/ACTA had noble intentions. ACTA specifically WAS a good piece of legislation, until it was changed through the actions of a select group of companies. Not freaking over the act, but recognising that through a public demonstration of democracy, the changes that bastardised the intended laws ultimately died, along with the laws themselves.

          The rules here are the same. AS INTENDED, they are noble ideas. AS WRITTEN, not so good. There are vagaries behind them that open possibilities probably not intended, but possible none-the-less.

          All I’m saying is that if the public doesnt agree with them, its been shown that the peoples voice can have an effect. And confidence is a powerful thing.

    • Here here! I agree. But considering it is us they want to control, and not them, I would say your suggestion will have a snow flakes chance in Hell, whilst the “Big Brother” has all the chances of happening as a Banker being greedy!

  3. I struggle with this sort of thing. We’re constantly told by the government they need more powers to keep us safe from ourselves and safe from terrorist groups. Then on the flipside we’re told the government will know all our “secrets” and be keeping tabs on us 24/7 and do we really want that?

    I’m FAR from tinfoil hat wearing. If the government knows my shoe size and that my underwear doesn’t fit properly…..fine, I don’t care. It is ONLY if they ABUSE that information that I have a problem with it. Will these legislation changes mean that? I’d have to do a fairly in depth study of it, but on the surface, the legislative changes, broadly, appear to allow what is ALREADY allowed, just easier. It is NOT changing the burden of proof required (as far as I can see?? except for one clause, which I list below) before these measures are taken, just WHAT measures can be taken once that proof has been provided.

    Unless the government are going to sell my information to foreign countries or commercial companies, I don’t see a problem with them having the information, kept securely and ONLY accessed once a burden of proof has been satisfied.

    I do agree with your previous comment though HC, that all government officers (Police etc.) should be under the same, if not stricter guidelines. If they do it to us, it SHOULD be done to them, so WE know the same burden of proof (for incorrect behaviour) is being followed on the government side.

    There are 2 amendments that concern me a little though:

    Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979
    14. Reforming the Lawful Access Regime a. expanding the basis of interception activities;

    This could mean anything. What IS the basis and what basis do you want to extend it to???

    Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979

    c. Clarifying that reasonable force may be used at any time during the execution of a warrant, not just on entry.

    Careful now, we’re moving on toward police brutality like that of the US.

    The rest are, on the whole, ways of simply streamlining and modernising the system. Mostly they’re centred around making multiple warrants into single warrants covering multiple points. That and enabling the easier surveillance of those the warrants concern.

    It comes down to this- There will ALWAYS be mistakes made on surveillance. But if there are 5 mistakes made, for the 1 person they capture selling drugs or plotting a murder or plotting a terrorist attack that could kill hundreds, is that too many mistakes? What about 10 mistakes? 100? There needs to be transparent guidelines and reviews in place to ensure any mistakes are treated seriously and the organisations involved learn from these. If this is the case, I have no issue with the government watching the public.

    After all, the government aren’t some high and mighty all-powerful god- they are a group of people, like you and me, doing their jobs, protecting and forwarding our country, elected BY the country. IF they have the proper oversight, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do their jobs easier?

    • I detest the idea of precrime and all policies, laws and enactments that enable any sort of authority to detain or surveil people on the basis of precrime. Spying and retaining data on entire populations is not the solution to the probability that some people might do some bad things somewhere in the future.

      • @Nicoli

        We’re not talking pre-crime here. We’re talking those who’ve been identified as being involved in criminal activity. The laws don’t change what’s required as a burden of proof to prove they ARE involved in criminal activity, except maybe the clause I’ve outlined. It’s about making it easier to deal with surveilling those people across multiple platforms.

        Oh and by the way, if you don’t agree with surveillance of suspicious persons at all, how would they have stopped the second London bombings?….

        • hi S_T,

          they are talking about the data retention issues. Surveilance is not the problem (when performed with appropriate warrants when accessing typically private information.

          It is when you call an ISP and say: “Send me the last 2 years of logs on person X’s computer please”. With a warrant, it still makes me nervous. Accessing these logs for anyone in Australia without a warrant, is where it starts going into pre-crime territory.

          “I don’t like this seven_tech fellow, call delimiter, get his IP address, then request the last 2 years of his internet browsing history from his ISP. When you find that copyright infringement he did, go to a judge and get a warrant to confiscate every electronic device on his person. Then we’ll just do forensic investigation on his equipment (read: stick it in a closet for 6 months).”

          Sounds unreasonable? Maybe Asmodai down below who threatened violence against authority needs to worry about this? Maybe we shouldn’t say things like this just in case someone reads too much into it? Suddenly, it goes from “I get in trouble for what I do” to, “I get in trouble if you annoy someone, and they go looking for the log file that retains enough information about something I have done to ruin my life.”

          I know it all sounds far fetched. Trust me, totally tin-foil. But why make it a valid part of the system to allow this (even though it will “never happen”).

          • Hi PeterA

            I agree that the data retention is….concerning. The idea behind it is that the government can piece together activity over time to prove you were dealing/a terrorist/plotting or committing fraud/plotting assassination etc. The thing that I am pointing out is, at the moment, these laws do not change the conditions the government must meet (burden of proof) required for them to be ALLOWED to access this information.

            ie Currently, even WITH these laws changing, it is illegal for the government to ask for my data in the situation they have described. Piracy is not considered (yet) a burden of proof for data access or surveillance. If they did so, I’d simply hire a lawyer and he’d say ‘move for dismissal on grounds of illegal use of data’. Judge throws it out, government pays legal costs.

            I’m not saying let them retain all your data, but I am saying, these laws do not change the burden of proof. The moment they look like doing so, ill be the first to jump up and down. Unless I have interpreted these changes incorrectly?

          • Sorry, ‘situation they have described’ should be ‘situation you have described’ referring to you scenario of me annoying someone.

  4. All I have to say is 1984 was big brother at its best
    fahrenheit 451
    “I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense.”
    – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Part 2

      • Yea I think it really shows what governments can do
        Ban people fron information and control what you do and say threw taking away books and knowledge
        Great book
        Great movie
        Has more impact than 1984

  5. there is no point opposing it. ludlum is wrong. concerned citizens are always ignored. the australian people’s collective iq rates at about 50 or 60.

  6. renai,

    when you do articles like this it’d be good if you could include a direct link to the actual submission process.

  7. I do find it very interesting that the greens support free expression when it suits them. These bills are definitely against free speech and open society.

    But is it not hypocrtical to support government oversight of the media industry (directly or indectly through funding arrangements of the media council) which also reduces society’s free expression?

    • The Greens are free to make a stand on these items because they know that the Liberals will step up to the plate and support whatever demands the countries (real) leaders voice. Bicycle helmets, mandatory full body scanners at airports, anti gun laws, international data sharing, dodgy free trade agreements or the fondness for ACTA exhibited by DFAT – the Australian public be dammed. The Liberals recently reported stance on internet filtering was telling – it is bad because the technology isnt ready, not because of any enduring alignment with the values of a free society. On those few issues where the Liberals might have a dissenting opinion the Greens are a little less idealistic – take the arbitary entry of premises laws awarded to carbon cops under the carbon tax laws.

    • It’s not “society’s free expression”, and never was, unless you count Letters To The Editor. The press is only free if you own one.

  8. Any particular reason you haven’t explained why your previous article on this issue was wrong?

  9. Looking forward to that NBN so I can upload all my data for the government to snoop through and get filtered at the same time… /eyeroll

    Roxon has done nothing but push the nanny state since the gov. came to power. Plain packaging, min pricing on alcohol (price fixing which is explicitly illegal) etc while she was health minister, and she’s taken to the role of Minister of Totalitarianism like a goose stepping duck to water…

    And what’s the answer? Right Wing Tony and his bunch of numpties? The greens and their flip flopping between libertarianism and totalitarianism? Every political party wants CONTROL and there is no viable option. So people vote for the best of a bad bunch and the party takes that as a mandate for every crackpot scheme they can think of…

    I don’t typically advocate violence but we really need a “sic semper tyrannis” moment in Australia to shock the country out of it’s rut. The pollies shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this sort of sh$t and the country shouldn’t let them get away with it, but with our rusted on two party system, what choice do we have?

    • @Asmodai

      “Looking forward to that NBN so I can upload all my data for the government to snoop through and get filtered at the same time… /eyeroll”

      Please tell me that was sarcastic?

    • Wake up, the Greens are now and have been for some years, a realistic alternative. Perhaps not a good one, but a genuine difference to the obsolete Tweedledumb and the superseded Tweedledumber. Rusted on? Look at the results of the 2010 Federal election – supposedly “rusted on” voters are abandoning the old parties in droves. Speed the day.

  10. “I don’t typically advocate violence but we really need a “sic semper tyrannis” moment in Australia to shock the country out of it’s rut.”

    Unfortunately I have to agree but until then we deserve what we get for our collective apathy.

    • Ti’s rather tragic isn’t it. Collective “Group Think” coupled with collective apathy. Ugh!

  11. “I don’t typically advocate violence but we really need a “sic semper tyrannis” moment in Australia to shock the country out of it’s rut.”

    I’d be careful with that language in the future if I were you Asmodai, if these changes go through that’s exactly the kind of statement that may come back to haunt you…

    Seriously though, this kind of thing has been brewing for a long time. Hopefully I’m wrong but I get the feeling that one day soon we will look back at the past 15 years or so as a golden age before the net went sour. If you want someone to blame, look at social media idiots who have been giving up their privacy so readily that governments feel confident to suggest this kind of thing.

    • I agree with you in part.
      The net has never been a last bastion of privacy.
      The biggest threat to my privacy right now is Google, Facebook and Apple.

      For at least ten years governments have been monitoring web traffic linked to terror groups like Al Qaeda.
      They have to have learnt a great deal from all those hard drives and cell phones they seize from terror cells.
      You can’t then expect them NOT to want to monitor emails and web traffic around the world.

      Talking of apathy, interesting that NBN threads seem to get up to 250 contributions quite quickly, and this is stuck in the low twenties.

      • I think, that’s partly down to your interest level. But also partly down to the fact that most people who are commenting, ie using the net, know their privacy is compromised every time they use the net.

        It’s often the tinfoil wearers who come up in arms about ANYTHING even REMOTELY to do with infringing on privacy. But at least in this case, for the most part, people seem to be taking a sensible approach and just asking questions as to why it’s necessary.

        In general I agree with these changes. Doesn’t mean I don’t want the government to be clearer about EXACTLY what the changes mean AND why they want to make them specifically.

      • easy solution to old problem – dont use google, facebook or apple

        difficult solution to new problem – dont use the internet or a mobile phone

        • Really lotek.

          Do you use no brand name internet sites? I do, I’m happy to. The moment they abuse my data- bye bye.

          Don’t use the internet or mobiles…..hmmm, I’m finding it very difficult to see how you’re not utterly paranoid here. You’re using the internet by the way?….

          • hey, slow down… i was highlighting the conundrum, not having a go at you or what sites you use. i use google – and i know its not a particularly private search engine. Its the choice factor im on about. In the old paradigm you have a choice to say bye-bye. In the new paradigm – unless you want to lose your job and your friends because you never answer your phone or your emails – your pretty much screwed for choice.

          • @lotek

            True enough. It is difficult to extract ourselves from these things. But then again, the same could be said of the telephone. Or the TV. The choice is ours as to how much info we put on these sites. I have no more info than someone could find out in a half hour conversation with me. And It’s not information I care about people having. I work at the Opera House. One of my favourite bands is Muse. My mobile number, which I ONLY share with friends….and they have it anyway….

            My point is, yes, it is difficult to live in the new paradigm without using these things. But its possible to use them and still be private….problem is a lot of people don’t. And that way lies monsters.

          • The way you put it:

            “easy solution to old problem – dont use google, facebook or apple
            difficult solution to new problem – dont use the internet or a mobile phone”

            The way you MEANT it:

            “It’s difficult to keep private in an increasingly always on and connected world”

            2 VERY different statements. One reeks of paranoia. The other is a reasonable and thought out statement. THAT is the one I was replying to, NOT the paranoid one.

          • lotek, you seem to be under the misapprehension that I am struggling to understand your point of view. I perfectly understand your point of view. I am saying your ARGUMENTS are based in paranoia. Not your opinion.

            I have made a perfectly valid point- These laws change what happens when it is PROVEN you are doing something illegal. NOT what is REQUIRED to prove you are doing something illegal. That is a VERY valid point. But apparently, you don’t wish to see that.

            I do not wish to waste time if you are only going to attack me. I have given a valid point. If you wish to argue it or criticise the point feel free, but I’m not interested in being assaulted for my opinion.

          • http://www.zdnet.com/the-internet-archives-gen-y-dont-send-that-email-7000000810/

            Final paragraphs:

            “The simple rule that needs to be understood by the Generation Y, and those that follow, is that digital communication is not transient. It doesn’t degrade, it isn’t necessarily forgotten, and it is intrinsically vulnerable. If you’ve something to say that you would prefer to remain unrecorded, consider seriously before writing it down.

            It may not be as convenient as using your iPhone to text, but it may save you embarrassment in the long run.”

            It is about self-control. If you’re silly enough to put it out there…..well, hopefully your lesson will be light, not heavy….

    • You don’t need to make bold statements to come under suspicion….

      You remember Chris Ilingworth’s case?

      • Yep. It was stupid that they raided his house. They got the comeuppance for it and the charges were dropped.

        Fact is, this was an example of child-welfare advocates jumping the gun and calling the Police, assuming Chris was the one who had done it, or that he was advocating it, when, in fact it was the opposite. This is as much a symptom of a broken Child-protection system as a broken privacy system. If you put a video online of you smacking a child gently when they were continually ignoring your instructions, you’d be hauled over the coals and charged….for a smack….Me and my sister were smacked as kids and we THANK our parents for it. Although, that is not the same deal here, as it WAN’T Chris in the video.

        This was a ridiculous case that should never have been allowed. But because the child-protection advocates have such loud voices in today’s media, the Police had to act. They did so without investigating the claims first. This was a failure of the justice system, NOT of the privacy system IMO.

  12. I think if it was possible to convince people that this may reduce their ability to access free pirated porn, or at least convince them that the government will be aware every time they access it – that apathy would evaporate quite quickly. As for al-qaeda etc – governments have been monitoring communications for a long long while… Echelon began in the 60’s… However, I think that letting us know they will be monitoring us and having us accept it as normal and ok is a very very dangerous precedent that will be very very difficult to undo.

    • Why? It’s a free citizens right to access whatever legal content they like, including porn. The government has no right, under ANY law to restrict that if the person is over 18 in this country. These changes won’t affect that. If it’s pirated, they shouldn’t be accessing it anyway. That IS illegal. There’s more than enough free legal porn for those people….haven’t you heard the internet is 90% porn :P

      I don’t disagree with the concern over the precedent set of government monitoring being accepted. But again, if it is transparent and open and the monitoring is, in turn, monitored for use, what is the problem?

  13. just so you know, i’ve never worn a tinfoil hat. im not a conspiracy type of guy.
    my beef is really only a philosophical one.
    its people like you our grandchildren will be cursing.

    • Eh? How so?

      I’m not advocating 1984. I’m advocating open, transparent monitoring, monitored itself, to ensure our citizens are safe.

      How will that end up being 1984? Unless you mean by some slow, slide into apathy about government surveillance? Well, considering I would be the first to jump up and down if they altered the conditions under which surveillance was allowed, you can’t blame “me” for that. That would be society’s apathy. A society is only as strong as the weakest part of its’ majority. I can’t help it if people lie down and accept everything without a critical eye on government surveillance, just because I happen to agree with this, but I WOULDN’T agree to changes in when surveillance is allowed.

      • so then… who monitors the monitors?… and who monitors them?… and on and on….

        anyway, my point is – if you think people who are more powerful than you are listening, will you really say what you think? or will you self censor?

        • “so then… who monitors the monitors?… and who monitors them?… and on and on….”

          That’s getting into real tinfoil stuff now. There will ALWAYS be corruption. That is not limited to the government. The citizens are just as likely to be corrupted. Or would you prefer we all stay inside, close the blinds and speak in whispers for fear of being overheard?

          “anyway, my point is – if you think people who are more powerful than you are listening, will you really say what you think? or will you self censor?”

          I would be utterly ashamed and disappointed in myself for throwing my principles away by NOT saying something to “more powerful” people. I have done so in the past and nearly had my life destroyed for it. I would do it again. Freedom of Speech is the ONE thing as a democracy we have over any other government. It would be utterly despicable to “self-censor”.

          I might not swear at them, as I would on a forum (that’s more for context and emotion than anything) but I would say WHATEVER I thought to the Prime Minister herself or the head of ASIO if I thought it was immoral or unjust. THAT is freedom of speech. I do not believe that these laws are impinging on that whatsoever.

          • i tire of this.
            it is not paranoid or “tin foil” to want to maintain the veneer of privacy we currently enjoy on the net.
            you obviously are a good little lap dog.

          • I make it a point not to insult people. Apart from it being against this forum’s policy, it doesn’t help arguments. I was not referring to you being tinfoil. The argument you had was, IMO.

            I’d appreciate not being called names because I have a differing opinion. I note you didn’t respond to any of my points. And yet my opinion is wrong?

          • p.s.
            you watch too much tv my friend
            – its the US that has that has that freedom of speech thingy, not Australia.

  14. Wasn’t only a month or so ago that the Fed Gov signed off on a one sided deal with the USA and blithely handed over all our private details. The same sortof details that we, the ordinary citizen, have to apply to FOI for. There wasn’t much of a media kerfuffle about it. Ostensibly for terrorism’s sake.
    I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t necessary at all; that there are already existing legal, international jurisdictions and cooperation to do just that.
    Why oh why did the Fed Gov just hand all our private details to the USA? Sorry can’t remember the actual date, twas around early May this year i think; http://www.attorneygeneral.gov.au/Media-releases/Pages/2012/Second%20Quarter/4-May-2012—Australia-and-United-States-working-together-on-homeland-security.aspx

  15. Reading through the terms of reference (or whatever)

    16. Amending the Telecommunications Act to address security and resilience risks posed
    to the telecommunications sector. This would be achieved by:
    by instituting obligations to provide Government with information on
    significant business and procurement decisions and network designs

    Does this mean the government wants the ability to ban Huawei from selling telecoms equipment to Telcos?

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