Unfettered, unreasonable, unnecessary

A new law gives ASIO greatly expanded powers to spy domestically, and for the first time allows Australia’s spooks to spy internationally for economic reasons only. This is dangerous law, unjustified by the government, which has slipped through an acquiescent parliament asleep on the job.

Unfettered, unreasonable, unnecessary

The Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 has passed parliament, expanding the lawful ability for Australia’s spooks and extended security apparatus, including defence, to pry into citizen’s lives…whether appropriately or not.

And, for the first time, ministers can now authorise spying by Australia on trade and economic matters.

The amendments:

  • allow Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) to “support and assist” all of the Australian Defence Force (which then, presumably, allows the security side of Defence to pass on information to the spook agencies and domestic police with whom there are formal intelligence exchange agreements);
  • allow ministers to formally authorise secret spying on any Australian for “breach of UN sanctions” . This is a dangerous extension of ministerial and spook powers, CLA says, which can be activated if an Australian is merely “likely” to be involved in suspect activity, not “reasonably suspected” as should be the case); and

•   allow ASIO to freely distribute around the intelligence community any scuttlebutt on anyone who has ever applied to it for work (or whom ASIO has considered for employment, unbidden)…whether the information is correct or not, without the person involved knowing, and with no right of appeal or review.

For the first time, the new law also allows international economic spying by Australia’s spooks – if “the collection of foreign intelligence … is in the interests of Australia’s national security, Australia’s foreign relations or Australia’s national economic well-being”. The final phrase is newly added to the ministerial and spook powers. It is not clear which companies – or which Reserve Bank subsidiaries – the government will share this intelligence with.

This is not a surprising development, given that the former head of ASIO, Dennis Richardson, is now secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  Under Richardson, human rights diplomacy has dwindled while security and trade focus has expanded significantly.

The new amendments “follow… consultation with security and intelligence agencies based on practical experience of matters that will improve the operation of legislation,” the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland’s, media release says. NOTE: there has been no equivalent consultation with the community, including law, civil liberties and human rights bodies that would improve the human rights and civil liberties compliance with the legislation.

The AG enjoys driving down one-way streets.

At some stage, at least a few of the diligent, but currently strangely silent, federal MPs from the Labor and Liberal parties who are interested in liberties and rights must start to question why such unfettered, unreasonable and unnecessary powers like these are being gifted so frequently to the trenchcoat spooks, defence squirrels and police operatives by the executive government of Australia.

Each new straw of such law bends the back of a camel called freedom, CLA says.

It is interesting that only the Greens’ Senator, Scott Ludlam, spoke up on this issue. In a media release after the bill passed, he said:

“On the first day of sitting of the new Senate, the government and opposition have combined to allow ASIO to spy on a vastly larger range of people and organisations.”

Senator Ludlam said the government appeared "oddly desperate" to pass the bill but could not really explain why it was needed. "The government intends to radically expand the range of people and organisations on which ASIO can collect intelligence, but gave incomprehensible answers on the reason for the expanded mandate.

"The Senate was treated to the same swamp of ambiguity that we faced at the committee hearing. I asked for the reasoning behind the bill and was told by the Attorney-General’s department: ‘I can assure you that it is very important’.

"These so-called ‘WikiLeaks amendments’ are invoked if it is deemed to
be in the interest of national security or ‘national economic well
being’ – which can mean whatever ASIO wants it to mean.

"The public deserves to know – why is this happening and who will now be targeted," Senator Ludlam said.

  • Bill Rowlings, CLA CEO 110705

 Source: media release: ‘National security legislation passes parliament’, Attorney-General, 5 July 2011

The dissenting report of the Senate committee is available via:

http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/legcon_ctte/intelligence_services

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