Australia’s federal government recently passed a controversial bill that allows police to take over your data and social media accounts if you become a suspect in a serious crime.
And what makes things even worse is that the authorities are allowed to do so without securing a judge’s warrant first.
Dubbed as the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020, it vests upon the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) three new seemingly invasive powers. These are enumerated below:
1. The power to serve a “data disruption warrant,” which allows the police to “disrupt data” by modifying, copying, adding, or deleting it;
2. The power to serve a “network activity warrant,” which authorizes the police to gather information from devices or networks that are used, or likely to be used, by those subject to the warrant; and
3. The power to serve an “account takeover warrant,” which permits the police to take control of an online account (e.g., social media) to gather information for an investigation.
The said warrants are also slated to be issued by a member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which means the total lack of judicial oversight.
Mandatory compliance for Australian companies.
According to the Identify and Disrupt Bill’s provisions, Australian companies are expected to fully comply when presented with a warrant from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Refusing to do so is punishable by imprisonment for up to ten (10) years.
“Compliance” in this case means to “actively help the police to modify, add, copy, or delete the data of a person under investigation.”
The rationale for the controversial bill.
Proponents of the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 stressed that it was primarily set up to keep terrorism and the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) at bay.
Notably, however, the provisions of the said bill also encompass any “serious State offense that has a federal aspect” or “serious Commonwealth offense,” which means that it can be applied to tax evasion, company violations, bankruptcy acts of piracy, and violence.
All of these offenses are punishable by imprisonment of at least three (3) years.
Mounting disapproval for the Identify and Disrupt Bill 2020.
Senator Lidia Thorpe, the Greens spokesperson for Justice, expressed her objection to the railroaded bill on Monday, saying that the legislation “enables the AFP and ACIC to be judge, jury, and executioner,” and it does not clearly “identify or explain why these powers are necessary.”
“As our laws evolve to combat cyber-enabled crime, our human rights need to evolve as well to protect us from cyber-enabled abuses of power,” she added.
A potential source of human rights abuse.
Angus Murray, lawyer and Chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia’s Policy Team, related that the new Identify and Disrupt bill is “an indication of the end of respect for Human Rights in the country.”
He emphasized that this is now “a regime in Australia where we have conferred power on law enforcement agencies to hack Australians’, and potentially overseas persons’, computers and to take over accounts and modify and delete data on those accounts.”
Fighting for the fundamental right of privacy.
It is not a secret that surveillance can be utilized for power. And it is a threat that we should stave off to keep our societies free and open.
The Identify and Disrupt bill’s conferral of authority to the police to break into people’s computers, take over their social media accounts, and spy on them is a considerable threat to our privacy.
This is something that we should all fight against.