Government pushes for wide ranging internet surveillance

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In July and August, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security looked at a series of proposals to increase internet surveillance. The government claims that the changes will help strengthen ‘national security’ but it is the interests of big business that they are really out to protect.

The Attorney-General is pushing for an increase in the surveillance powers of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and spy agencies the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD).

By David Elliott, Socialist Party

Many of the proposals are extensions of already existing powers, some brought in by the Howard Government under the pretext of combating terrorism. As we have seen in the past these draconian powers are often said to be for a specific purpose but they end up being used against all sorts of people in the community who oppose the government’s policies.

ASIO has a history of acting as Australia’s political police. During the 1970s it was discovered after a raid on ASIO offices that they had been collecting information on various elected politicians, government officials and trade union leaders. Numerous activists, including Aboriginal rights activist Gary Foley, have obtained copies of their ASIO files that show they have been under surveillance.

Without any transparent, democratic control over these organisations, they are inevitably used by the government of the day to harass and intimidate people that oppose the political status quo. With both major parties being financed by big business, spy agencies are often used by governments to protect and enhance the narrow profit interests of the rich.

If allowed to go through the government’s proposals will almost certainly see increased surveillance of political activists. It is also possible that some of these changes will be used to prosecute online file-sharers.

Until now Australia has been relatively free of the over-the-top crackdowns on individuals who have downloaded pirated music and films. No doubt representatives of the big entertainment companies will push for any new powers over Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to be used against file-sharers.

The Attorney-General’s office has been in regular contact with lobbyists from these companies, and has actively blocked Freedom of Information requests for documents relating to these meetings.

With one in four internet users having downloaded pirated music and films such measures are clearly out-of-step with community expectations, making potential criminals out of average people.

It is for these reasons that socialists oppose any increased powers for the police or for spy agencies. To ensure law enforcement agencies are run in the interests of the majority they need to be under the control of accountable, democratically elected committees. Agencies whose primary purpose is to spy on political activists should be abolished and resources should be diverted to areas focused on addressing genuine threats to the community.

Recently community opposition defeated draconian intellectual property rights laws in the European Union. This set back plans for widespread internet surveillance there. If enough people come out against these proposals here they can be beaten back in a similar way.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon is proposing:

* Internet Service Providers (ISPs) be forced to retain information on user’s internet activities for as long as two years
* Reducing the minimum offence necessary to justify a surveillance warrant
* Removing many of the accountability requirements placed on surveillance agencies in the name of ‘streamlining’
* Expanding the ASIO Director-General’s ability to authorise criminal conduct by ASIO agents
* Removing prohibitions that prevent ASIO from planting (or deleting) information on targeted computers
* Allowing authorities to tamper with unrelated, third-party computers and premises while targeting the subject of a warrant
* Allowing a government department to order telecommunication and internet carriers to change their infrastructure, auditing and monitoring practices however the government desires, with no community consultation