Internet data tracking proposal seen as 'a police state'

PROPOSED laws that would allow the web and telecommunications data of all Australians to be stored for two years have been dubbed ''characteristic of a police state''.

The federal government has sent its contentious discussion paper on changes to the national security legislation to a parliamentary inquiry rather than introduce it as legislation. In July, the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, acknowledged the privacy and financial costs of the scheme, saying ''the case has yet to be made'' for the controversial plan.

In a heated submission to that inquiry, Victoria's Acting Privacy Commissioner, Anthony Bendall, dubbed the proposals ''characteristic of a police state'', arguing ''it is premised on the assumption that all citizens should be monitored''.

''Not only does this completely remove the presumption of innocence which all persons are afforded, it goes against one of the essential dimensions of human rights and privacy law: freedom from surveillance and arbitrary intrusions into a person's life,'' he said.

The government says its proposals are under consideration only, and it has sought the views of the multi-party inquiry on the plans in its discussion paper.

These include allowing authorities to access anyone's computer to get to a suspect's device, or to ''enter a third-party premises for the purposes of installing a surveillance device''.

It is also considering increasing the scope of search warrants from 90 days to six months and establishing an ''authorised operations scheme'' to protect ASIO officers from civil or criminal liability.

The government says telecommunications intercept laws, which date from 1979, have become hopelessly outdated.

But civil liberties groups and telcos have slammed the proposals in submissions to the inquiry.

The Law Council of Australia said if the wide range of proposals were adopted, they would ''constitute a very significant expansion of the powers of Australia's law enforcement and intelligence agencies''. It questioned whether this was necessary given the ''extensive catalogue'' of powers the agencies already had.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre said the legislation was unnecessary and posed a threat to privacy rights.

''Extension of these powers to people not suspected of any crime who, for example, happen to live in property adjoining that of a suspect, is disproportionate to the purpose that covert search warrants are intended to achieve and is an unjustifiable incursion of the right to privacy,'' the centre said.

The internet provider iiNet said the government had failed to demonstrate how current laws were failing or how criminals and terrorists posed a threat to networks, and said asking carriers to intercept and store customers' data for two years could make them ''agents of the state'' and increase costs.

A joint submission from telco industry groups said companies were ''naturally predisposed to protecting [their] infrastructure'' without government requiring them to do so. Further, it argued, it would cost between $500 million and $700 million to keep data for two years. It called for full compensation from the government's security agencies.

The Australian Federal Police and the Australian Taxation Office were among the few supporting the proposal to retain all telecommunications data.

The ATO said the proposal would be consistent with European practices and that being able to access real-time telecommunications data would allow it to ''respond more effectively'' to attempts to defraud the Commonwealth.

The AFP said interception capabilities were increasingly being ''undermined'' by fundamental changes to the telecommunications industry and communications technologies.

The story Internet data tracking proposal seen as 'a police state' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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