- James Madison, Fourth US President & Empire: Total War Quotee.
In a move yet to be widely covered by the rest of the media, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is seeking to quite radically expand its powers of surveillance, all the while asking the Federal government to reduce oversight of ASIO activities via increasing surveillance warrant durations from three to six months.
The request for the so-called 'super warrant' was submitted by the current Attorney-General, whose job involves proper oversight of ASIO in conjunction with the ‘Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’ (PJCIS). As the two government organs responsible for oversight they set the ball rolling on consideration of ASIO's request. Essentially throwing out the idea on reforms of ASIO power and oversight ‘via public hearings and deliberation’.
The Australian spy agency ASIO (we call it as we see it) wishes to create “one warrant to snoop them all’ by allowing a single piece of paperwork to authorise interception of all forms of communications. ASIO and the legal framework that oversees it, all appear simply tired of the paperwork generated by all the myriad warrants Google Chat, cell phones and so on require. To be fair, one should bear in mind that communications in Australia relied until fairly recently upon “telephoning, posting to or shouting loudly at someone”. As such this part of the bill can be argued to fit quite honestly under the PR banner of simplification ASIO have put up over it. Given the plethora of options around communications, they want to streamline spying - this first issue is more of a cause of maintaining capability. It makes plenty of sense to apply a warrant to the individual rather than require one each for their Steam account, their Skype and so on. Only EA's Origin system would be left out as no one actually uses it for human communication, including 'Live Chat' staff.
There are much questionable provisions though. Somewhat obscured under the above reasonableness are a few very stark points that are very much about increasing ADIO's abilities. We note that data sharing between agencies would be increased, that it would become an offense to not help with decryption for encrypted files and that most of all ISP’s would have to hold ‘all data’ for two years in case ASIO feels like doing some retro-spying. The last two points would radically expand ASIO's powers - storing all Australian communications is actually a pariticularly massive step, particularly as it's difficult to define communications. Even if limited to emails, this would appear to either require an ISP to store all your information (impossible), or sifting through your data (and decrypting it if necessary) ahead of any court order for emails and storing the result. This seems quesitonable.
Despite this there is virtually no reporting coming from the rest of the press. This broke late last week, however a single column in the Sydney Morning Herald and a press release by the Pirate Party is all there is right now in terms of visibility. The Australian Pirate Party do put their, and to an extent our concerns quite well:
It will be interesting to how the media responds once this picks up. For Atomic's part, many of the points in ASIO’s wishlists appear to simply make Australia's vital Intelligence Services more efficient, however it is important that all the points not get rolled up into one. Should some of the more radical provisions be passed into law it would indeed make Australia more secure, however as always there is the flipside of empowering spy agencies to demand keys to any encrypted file and to look over anyones last two years of electronic communications in any form. Security is nice, but North Korea isn't.
As always, the choice seems is then, between security and increased intrusions upon Australian liberties. Inspite of the lack of interest by virtually everone so far, this is a very serious issue - we hope to hear a lot more about it before your representatives vote on the matter.