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The New Security Regime in Australia

Late on Thursday night the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 was passed by the Senate without debate or scrutiny.

The bill empowers ASIO to access entire networks of computers with a single warrant, issued by the director-general of ASIO or his deputy. There is no limit on the number of computers that can be accessed or definition of what a "network" is, so it can be interpreted to mean the entire Internet. ASIO can now access any innocent third party computer or device on the network, copy, delete or alter any data on that device and indefinitely store data, not just metadata but documents, photos, anything.

Journalists, whistleblowers or people commenting on social media face up to 10 years gaol if they identify an ASIO agent or if they reveal "information that relates to a special intelligence operation". Operations can be declared "special" by any authorised ASIO agent.

ASIO agents are also immune from civil or criminal prosecution in "certain circumstances". Again "certain circumstances" isn't defined (see 'network' and 'special') and can therefore be assumed to mean whatever the government decides it means. So hypothetically if ASIO agents were to obtain information through criminal activity, or manipulate documents or images to incriminate someone, and the government, who would otherwise be blamed for it, decided these were "certain circumstances", then the evidence would be admissible, the agents would not be prosecuted, and anyone who exposed, reported or posted a comment on it could be gaoled for 10 years.

An amendment from Greens Senator Scott Ludlum to limit the number of devices covered by a single warrant to 20 was defeated. While speaking against the amendment PUP Senator Glen Lazarus said "The internet poses one of the greatest threats to our existence".

These laws, which have been condemned by lawyers, academics, civil liberties groups and media organisations were passed with the full support of the Federal Opposition. They were rushed through in response to a threat which only exists because this Government, again with Labor's support, rushed us into an open-ended, poorly planned and complicated war we have no right or reason to be part of. This war is a direct result of the open-ended, poorly planned and complicated war we had no right or reason to be part of in 2003.

The extent to which these powers are used or misused is now entirely a mater of how much the government can be trusted. ASIO has become an extension of government that is above the law, with vaguely defined and virtually limitless powers. Australian governments now and into the future will have the power to spy on anyone without needing to justify it. They will be able to discredit or incriminate any person or group they disagree with, and the only guarantee we now have against it is the government's assurances they won't.

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