(Natural News) In a move described by an insider as ripe for abuse, the Australian Signals Directorate has been granted sweeping new powers to spy on Australians for the first time since its November 1947 founding.
The agency can now collect signals intelligence on individuals within the country without a warrant in situations where there is an “imminent risk to life.”
The agency will target domestic terror suspects and also collect intelligence in conjunction with the Australian Defense Force for military operations, with ministerial authorization.
Military intelligence veteran John Blaxland, professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies at the Australian National University, joined a list of experts who have expressed grave reservations about the development.
“I’m a former insider. I have a much greater appreciation of the need for checks and balances, because power tends to corrupt,” Blaxland said. “My concern is the legislation we put forward is being drafted by insiders, it’s drafted with their own concerns in mind.”
The rules governing the reform and protecting citizens’ privacy will be published on the agency’s website, and subject to review and scrutiny by the Australian parliament’s security and intelligence committee. The move, according to the government, aims to keep Australians safe.
The legislation was inspired by the findings of an extensive review by Dennis Richardson, former chief of Australian Security Intelligence Organization, conducted in close consultation with Australia’s assorted intelligence services.
Published in December 2020, Richardson’s findings noted that these agencies can already conduct warrantless intelligence-gathering if they believe it to be “necessary, proportionate, reasonable and justified” in certain circumstances, and “would like the ability” to not only use various investigative techniques without official permission, but also with “protection from criminal liability” when doing so.
Leaked documents exposed Aussie plans for spying
Journalist Annika Smethurst leaked documents on April 2018 showing that high-level plans for unrestricted domestic spying by the Directorate date back even further. (Related: Australia passes new controversial online surveillance bill.)
The documents proved that the respective heads of Australia’s Department of Defense and Department of Home Affairs had already discussed allowing the agency to access citizens’ emails, bank records and text messages without approval or trace.
A government source told Smethurst they were “horrified” by the proposals, given that “there is no actual national security gap this is aiming to fill.”
Australian Federal Police raided both the alleged leaker of the files and Smethurst the following year, but the charges against her were dropped in May 2020. Australian High Court judges unanimously ruled the warrant secured from a magistrate in relation to the raid was invalid because it not only “misstated the terms of the offence” but was also ambiguous if not outright absurd.
“The warrant lacked the clarity required to fulfil its basic purposes of adequately informing Smethurst why the search was being conducted and providing the executing officer and those assisting in the execution of the warrant with reasonable guidance to decide which things came within the scope of the warrant,” the High Court concluded.
One can’t help but wonder if the Directorate’s new domestic purview is an experiment, gauging levels of backlash and controversy among the Australian public. Ongoing legal battles against mass data collection in various jurisdictions clearly necessitate the practice being legalized and legitimized.
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