This week saw the passage of legislation that will give the Australian Security intelligence Organisation new powers to conduct "special intelligence operations", where agents will be permitted to break the law and journalists, whistleblowers and others will be penalised with up to 10 years in prison if they reveal any aspect of them.
Meanwhlie, ASIO will only need one warrant to spy on networks of computers, which some intepret to mean the entire internet.
"That could be to really any device that's connected to the internet," says Stephen Blanks of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. "[Intelligence agencies] will access information concerning people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing."
Australia’s domestic intelligence agency would have almost “total control” over the cancellation of passports for people who are considered a security risk under proposed laws which the Australian Human Rights Commission has warned may have severe consequences.
Stephen Blanks, the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, also expressed concerns about the passport changes, and said it could see more people being held in detention.
“One can expect that the way that that impacts the cancellation of dependants passports will result in detention of children,” he said.
Source: The Guardian, 3/10/2014
As part of changes to guidelines, officers have been told offenders do not have to be armed before an electronic control device (ECD) can be used, but a situation must be considered high risk.
Source: Yahoo!7 News, 1/10/2014
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has called for a one-line amendment to ensure the government’s proposed changes to counter-terrorism laws do not leave the way open for ASIO officers to argue they have legal immunity for torture.
The call has been triggered by concern that planned changes aimed at protecting undercover ASIO officers might have the unintended consequence of encouraging them to believe they have legal immunity to engage in torture.
Source: The Australian, 19/9/14
NSWCCL says it would be an extraordinary manifestation of hypocrisy for Labor to 'not oppose' the legislation, as it has suggested it will do. CCL Secretary Lesley Lynch says CCL greatly disappointment with the Government putting forward this bill and argues that if it is bad process and bad law, Labor should oppose the bill.
WikiLeaks documents suggest that NSW Police have invested more than $2.5 million on German surveillance software that officers are using to hack into suspects' smartphones and computers. NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks speaks to ABC Radio about NSW Police usage of cyber hacking tools.
Source: ABC Radio, 16/9/14
Documents published by Wikileaks on Monday have revealed NSW Police usage of sophisticated hacking software to spy on smartphones computers. Police can obtain 'covert' warrants allowing them to gain secret access to suspects devices and data, however the software offers potentially broader spying capabilities leading to concerns that it could be used inappropriately beyond the intended scope of the search warrant.
NSWCCL's Stephen Blanks offered the following comment: "The use of software like this to enable law-enforcement agencies to remotely access computer networks raises particular concerns and it is vital that there is sufficient information made available about the use of [the associated] warrants so that the public can be satisfied that they are not being abused."
Source: The Age, 15/9/14
An Australian citizen has been stripped of his passport on the basis of secret ASIO evidence that allegedly shows he is a people smuggler.
"The extraordinary thing about it is it's not a case involving terrorism, it's a case involving people smuggling," Mr Blanks said.
"So when the Government says that these powers are needed to deal with the terrorist threat, that's actually quite misleading when they use them in relation to people smuggling cases.
"Certainly threats to border and territorial integrity were inserted into the definition of security in 2010, but it's not clear that people smuggling is within that definition or should be."
Source: ABC News, 5/9/2014
ASIO has cancelled the passport of an Austrlalian citizen believed to be involved with people smuggling. This is based on a secret assessment and without opportunity for the accused to challenge the allegations in court, under Australia's recently toughened 'anti-terror' national security laws .
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks spoke to ABC Radio's AM:
"Accusing somebody of people smuggling is accusing them of a criminal offence. If they charged the person with the criminal offence they would have to produce evidence that could be revealed in open court and the accused would have his day in court to answer it. This way there is no idea of what the evidence is and the accused has no fair opportunity to answer the accusation."
Source: ABC Radio AM, 5/9/2014
The attorney general, George Brandis, has denied referring lawyer Bernard Collaery and a former intelligence officer to the Australian federal police after they revealed that Australia spied on Timor-Leste during negotiations over a lucrative oil and gas pipeline.
The head of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said the lack of a public-interest defence available to Collaery or the agent was “a gaping hole in Australia’s legal system”.
“Some of the most important breachers of classified info have been totally justified because of those being in the public interest,” he said.
“What this prosecution will do is have a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers and the media and if it continues, there will be self-censorship and the media will not live up to its obligation of being a fearless investigator and reporter on matters of national importance.”
Source: The Guardian 1/9/2014