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Government steps up electronic surveillance without a warrant

Computerworld | September 17, 2007
Sandra Rossi

Government steps up electronic surveillance without a warrant
Fears powers could be misused with no judicial oversight
Sandra Rossi 17/09/2007 16:19:39

More than a year after the federal government first proposed legislation allowing law enforcement to monitor mobile phones, e-mail, SMS and voicemail messages without a warrant, the amendments have finally reached the Senate with fiery debate expected to follow its introduction into the Upper House of parliament.

Computerworld first published details of amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill in June, 2006 in ISP data and the perils of privacy.

The article exposed amendments to the legislation as well as widespread use of Section 282 of the Telecommunications Act, which allows government agencies to access data from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) without a warrant.

While this bill that is set to go before the Senate this week, the government has already been undertaking electronic surveillance without a warrant via Section 282. This just gives the government another avenue to undertake surveillance under the guise of counter-terrorism.

However, this bill which has been passed by the House of Representatives, allows law enforcement to track people via their mobile phones. It can be used in any criminal investigation if the suspected offence carries a jail term of three years or more.

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said phone companies and ISPs would have to provide the government with access to customer data for up to 90 days if it involves ASIO or 45 days for law enforcement.

Nettle said this will allow authorities to glean hugeg amounts of information and makes every mobile phone a tracking device.

The Australian Democrats are also opposed to the laws and the party's Attorney General spokesperson, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, said today the powers are open to misuse and abuse, especially without judicial oversight.

Stott Despoja made reference to federal government claims that the legislation is a counter-terrorism measure.

"It is time for a comprehensive inquiry into the adequacy and appropriateness of our counter-terrorism laws, not to be bumping up these powers without proper justification," Senator Stott Despoja said. When the bill is debated in the Senate this week, the Democrats will move amendments to ensure prospective telecommunications data (location information) can only be accessed by enforcement agencies with a warrant issued in accordance with the Surveillance Devices Act; and to remove CrimTrac from the definition of an 'enforcement agency'.

Privacy advocates who have also raised concerns about the bill include the Law Council of Australia, Australian Privacy Foundation, Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Internet Industry Association.

But despite all the opposition to this current bill, it doesn't alter the fact that the government is already engaging in these activities under Section 282.

As Computerworld stated last year, the Section 282 loophole in the Telecommunications Act, allows law enforcement to access information "as necessary' for investigative purposes, and without a warrant.

This new bill is just another avenue of surveillance, without a warrant.

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