The human rights group Liberty Victoria today called on the Federal Government to use its review of security laws to introduce a much higher threshold for access to telecommunications data and limit access to agencies directly responsible for national security and the investigation of serious crime.
Liberty warned that the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, which gives government agencies access to this data, is open to abuse because information can be obtained without a warrant or any independent oversight. “A full-scale campaign has been launched against similar laws in Britain, targeting the `snoopers’ charter,’ as it is known.”
The Abbott government’s proposed data retention bill, which will amend the Act, will make things worse, enabling retrospective surveillance of the private lives of ordinary Australians throughout the two year data retention period.
“The Abbott government is trying to justify this bill as a necessary tool for security agencies and the police in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. The legislation goes much further than is necessary for this purpose, however, allowing access to telecommunications data, even if the investigation only aims at non payment of a fine or a tax.
“The law now allows Australian Post, the tax office and a municipal council, among many others agencies, access to an individual’s telecommunications data. And there is no sanction if information is accessed unlawfully by authorised officers working in these agencies.”
Liberty said that in spite of statements to the contrary by the Federal Government, the proposed data retention bill will not necessarily limit the number of agencies that have access to telecommunications data and nothing in the bill will set a higher threshold for access to such data.
Liberty echoed the view of Alistair MacDonald, QC, chairman of the English Bar Council, that one of the aims of extremists, who are willing to commit barbaric crimes in support of purportedly religious or political ends, is that the hard-won liberties of the civil population should be curtailed and a wedge driven between those in society with different views about the degree to which personal freedom should be sacrificed for public safety.