EFA takes wait-and-see approach to ASIO changes

Online civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia will wait until Senator George Brandis unveils his raft of changes to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 before passing judgement on them, but EFA executive officer Jon Lawrence says he is hopeful that the Attorney-General's proposals will not be "too extreme".

Lawrence said the organisation is concerned about extensions to ASIO's surveillance powers, "especially anything that is not specifically targeted or that can be undertaken without a warrant".

"We're also very concerned that the current situation in Syria and Iraq may be used to rush changes through without the opportunity for a sober, objective debate on the balance between security and civil liberties," Lawrence said.

Brandis announced earlier this week that he would seek to give increased powers to intelligence agencies including ASIO based on a report (PDF) issued by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) during the last parliament.

Brandis told the Senate that he would be "introducing legislation in the next sitting fortnight to give effect to the recommendations in chapter four of that report".

"I think there are a few things in [section four] that we're not terribly happy with, but it wouldn't, for example, include any proposal for data retention or anything like that," Lawrence said.

The potential introduction of a mandatory data retention regime for telcos was covered in section five of the report. There was a "diversity of views" within the PJCIS on the issue of a data retention regime, the report states. "This is ultimately a decision for Government," the report concluded.

A Daily Telegraph report that was published two days before Brandis' announcement and revealed the AG's intention to boost ASIO's powers said that a data retention regime would be introduced as separate legislation later in the year.

Lawrence said that although data retention is " definitely on the agenda" he doesn't expect it to be included in the first tranche of legislation introduced by Brandis.

"At the end of the day, our primary overriding concern is to do with untargeted mass surveillance and stuff that can be done without proper oversight in terms of warrants and so forth," the EFA spokesperson said.

"If they're going after legitimate targets and it's quite specific and they've got some sort of warrant approval, then in the greater scheme of things that's less of a concern for us than mass, all-economising potential surveillance that data retention, for example, involves."

However, he added that some elements in section four were potentially concerning for civil liberties advocates. These include recommendations that ASIO be allowed to "disrupt" computer systems as well as access third-party "computers and communications in transit to access a target computer under a computer access warrant".

"The devil of course will be in the detail" of the legislation introduced by the government, Lawrence said.

The EFA executive officer said the organisation is very concerned about the abolition of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Repeal Bill 2014. The inquiry was due to report on 2 June; however the Senate has extended the committee's deadline to 19 August.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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