How Australia's New 'Anti-Terror' Censorship Law Could Cover Up Botched Intelligence Operations

from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong? dept

As we reported a few weeks ago, Australia has passed a dreadful "anti-terror" law that not only allows the authorities to monitor the entire Internet in that country with a single warrant, but also threatens 10 years of jail time for anyone who "recklessly" discloses information that relates to a "special intelligence operation." But what exactly will that mean in practice? Elizabeth Oshea, writing in the Overland journal, has put together a great article fleshing things out. Here's her introduction:
The parliament has passed legislation that permits the Attorney General to authorise certain activities of ASIO and affiliates as 'special intelligence operations'. We can only assume that ASIO will seek such authorisation when its operatives plan to break the criminal or civil law -- the whole point of authorising an operation as a special intelligence operation is that participants will be immune from the consequences of their unlawfulness. It will also be a criminal act to disclose information about these operations.
So the Australian government can designate activities of its spy services as "special intelligence operations," which may well be illegal, and then it becomes a criminal act to disclose anything about those operations, however bad they are. Indeed, that even seems to include operations that result in death, as Oshea explains in one of her examples of what could happen under the new law:
A botched operation is conducted that results in the death of an innocent bystander (credit this suggestion to the former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor). Note that if a person with three children dies as a result of a failure to take reasonable care, her family will be unable to make a claim for the cost of raising her dependents. If she is maimed but not killed, she will be unable to make a claim for the cost of her medical care, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and the cost of raising her dependents.
That's a hypothetical case, but Oshea also lists a number of incidents that have already occurred, but which are likely to be covered by the new law -- and would thus become impossible to write about. Here are a couple of them, with links to the real-life cases:
Agents and officers raid a couple in their home and hold them captive at gunpoint for an hour, only leaving when they discovered they were at the wrong address. The couple will have no entitlement to compensation for any property or personal damage arising from imprisonment, trespass and assault.

Agents kidnap and falsely imprison a young medical student. They attempt to coerce answers from him, making making threats that go beyond what is permitted by the relevant search warrant.
There's more of the same, listing previously-reported incidents that would probably be censored in future. The post also explores legislative proposals that are equally disturbing:
The parliament is considering laws that will punish people with life imprisonment for a range of new offences associated with 'subverting society' (which is a component of the new definition of 'engaging in hostile activities'). The law contains a defence of advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action, but it is very unclear how these would be applied.
Here's the kind of thing that might get you life imprisonment in Australia in the future:
Leaking materials taken from government information systems that demonstrate serious wrongdoing (as per Manning or Snowden).

Organising and engaging in denial of service attacks – the online equivalent of a sit in – against government websites, such as that of the President, Prime Minister, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Stock Exchange.
There's also an explanation of what data retention might mean for the public. All in all, it's a valuable guide to some of the seriously bad stuff that Australia is doing. Let's just hope that other countries don't take it as a blueprint.

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Filed Under: anti-terror, asio, australia, censorship, leaks, special intelligence operations, whistleblowing


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2014 @ 6:41pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    when martial law is declared is when you either flee, fight back or roll over and accept it.

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