With Its New Security Law, Australia Tries to Out-NSA the NSA

Australia’s soon-to-be-passed law will give the country expanded surveillance powers

Colin Anderson/Blend Images/Corbis

Australia is in the process of passing new intelligence gatherings laws that, on the face, appear troublingly wide-ranging, even by American privacy standards. 

The new law, says ZDNet, which has cleared the Senate and is awaiting approval by the House of Representatives, will give the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) the power to “monitor every device on the internet, and copy, delete, or modify the data held on those computers with just a single warrant.”

The legislation now expands ASIO's powers to gain access to an unlimited number of computers or networks with a single computer access warrant, disrupt target computers, and use third-party computers not targeted in order to access a target computer.

“The physical equivalent,” said Scott Ludlam, a spokesperson for Australia's Greens party, “is if ASIO served a warrant to enter a particular house for a legitimate reason that also allowed them to enter any other house in the street or any other house in the country, actually, completely arbitrarily."

Alongside their expanded intelligence gathering permissions, the new law also protects the agency from Edward Snowden-esque leaks, says News.com.au. Leaking, reporting on or sharing information about “special intelligence operations” would be punishable by jail, they write.

“Reporting of these operations, which could foreseeably lead to situations where a public disclosure would be in the public interest, could land journalists and whistleblowers in jail,” says Paul Farrell in an opinion story for the Guardian.

And not just journalists, but any person who shares or republishes this material. In addition, harsher penalties are put in place for intelligence whistleblowers who take documents or records and disclose them, partly as a response to the disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Much as the United States' Patriot Act was passed into law amid the tense climate following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Australian government's approval of enhanced intelligence gathering powers came just a week after Australian officials allegedly stopped the terrorist organization ISIS from carrying out an attack in Sydney. The law was first introduced in July

The new laws, quipped Andrew Street in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, are good “because Australia's never been more at risk from terrorists. In fact, there's ONE BEHIND YOU RIGHT NOW! Or, more accurately, there's exactly as much probability of that being the case as it has been for the last decade and a half.” 

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