Innocent bystanders are increasingly being impacted Australia’s national security laws


news, federal-politics, Monitoring the metadata of children, Parliamentary Library, Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission, metadata, press freedom

When Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission became aware of potential links between a serving police officer and outlaw motorcycle gangs, it reached for surveillance powers, pulling the telecommunications data of both parties. It found the devices had been in repeated contact. But as investigators began to look deeper into the location data they had requested, they soon realised that what they were seeing, rather than a bikie talking to a police officer, was in fact their children, who happened to attend the same school. The commission highlighted the case as a triumph of the data retention scheme, negating the need for costly surveillance and phone taps. But for privacy advocates it also highlighted how Australia’s sprawling data monitoring and retention schemes are eroding the privacy of everyday citizens, including children, inadvertently caught in the wide net. Much of the focus of recent days has been on the Australian Federal Police accessing the metadata of journalists 58 times in one year. What has received less attention is the numerous cases like that of the Victorian children, where authorities have overreached in their attempt to prevent crime. Innocent bystanders are increasingly being impacted Australia’s national security laws in a web of legislation that is becoming ever more intricate and complex. Analysis from the Parliamentary Library shows 17 national security bills have been passed in the past six years the Coalition has been in power. Another four were brought back before the parliament last week. One means you could be fined up to $4200 if you refuse to pull out your ID for a police officer in an airport, or comply with a direction to move along. Another extends ASIO’s questioning and detention powers for an extra year. The powers were originally introduced following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 to help intelligence agencies identify and counter threats of terrorism in Australia. But experts say at least 80 pieces of national security legislation have been brought in since the Twin Towers attack. Dr Nicola McGarrity, who is a senior law lecturer at the University of NSW and the director of the Terrorism Law Reform Project, says the trend in Australia is one of “hyperlegislation”. “Australia more than any other country in the world has regarded legislation as being somewhat of a panacea to the threat of terrorism,” says Dr McGarrity. “Whenever the threat changes or starts to grow Australia has instead of adopting other measures has immediately defaulted back to enacting new laws, so at my count I think we’re up to nearly 80 anti-terrorism laws since 2001 which is really quite extraordinary.” RELATED NEWS: The most recent example of this was Australia’s response to the Christchurch attacks, where the federal government jumped to introduce laws that penalised social media platforms for failing to swift remove violent content. “I’m being speculative in saying this, but Australia is the only country in the western democratic world that lacks a national constitutional or statutory bill of rights, and that has meant where other countries exercise restraint because they’re unsure whether measures will impact on freedom of speech or freedom of association or the right to privacy … Australia can just adopt a really gung-ho approach,” says Dr McGarrity. “[With Christchurch], the international community in contrast has adopted a more aspirational approach, calling on those main service providers to cooperate and collaborate with governments rather than moving to criminalise their behaviour.” Bill Rowlings, who is chief executive of Civil Liberties Australia, believes the number of national security laws brought in post-9/11 is well past 100. “We’ve had 18 years of excessive terrorism legislation and spending and there’s been no overall review of that. It’s just new law piled on top of new law,” says Rowlings. And each law designed to eradicate terrorism also eroded the rights of people who had done nothing wrong, he says. Jacinta Carroll is a senior research fellow in counter-terrorism and social cohesion at the Australian National University’s National Security College, a training ground for Australia’s spooks. She says given the known terrorist and foreign interference threat, it is reasonable to expect Australian authorities to be prepared. “Australia has undertaken along with other countries to fulfill international obligations to address terrorism, such as preventing the movement of foreign fighters overseas, and prosecuting those that come home, and has done well in putting together a variety of tools in law to do this.” “As terrorism, foreign interference and other security matters continue to pose a threat, and as the means used to do so change – such as with changes to technology – Australia and other countries do what they can to have the right laws in place.” She is of the view that the process that has evolved over recent years ensured there was a lot of consideration, debate as well as review of the nation’s growing list of security legislation. “One of the important elements of Australia’s approach to national security laws and resources is the accompanying ongoing review through established bodies such as the [Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security] and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, as well as one-off reviews such as the review into Homeland Security and Independent Intelligence Reviews, of which we’ve had three in recent years. “Many of these reviews have led to limits and the requirement to demonstrate ongoing need, such as sunset clauses on legislation. And then there is also the court process. The current debate about press freedom and security, and the recently announced inquiry, will contribute to this discussion.” But Rowlings says an overarching review of the compounding effects of all the national security laws is now required to assess their combined impact. “Australians don’t live in fear, you and I don’t live in fear every day, but politicians are overly afraid something will happen and they’ll be criticised for it so their excessive fear is what’s unbalancing the whole thing.”

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