New powers like science-fiction movie Minority Report, NSWCCL says

Media coverage: Innovation Aus

'The federal government’s proposed new hacking powers for the Australian Federal Police are a “catch-all formula for abuse” and resemble something from the Hollywood film Minority Report, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties says.

The federal government late last year quietly introduced legislation to Parliament handing broad new powers to the AFP and Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to hack into the computers and networks of suspected criminals.

In its submission, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) said it was time to draw a line in the sand over increasing laws that erode privacy under the guise of preventing “serious crime”.

The council said the latest legislation is the “next in an accelerating wave, strengthening the powers of the state without any humility about the cumulative erosion of democratic freedoms they entail”.

“This bill builds on this ominous trend and takes it to a new level, providing unprecedented new powers for law enforcement to interfere and ‘disrupt’ communications of citizens without effective restraint,” the NSWCCL submission said.

“The abuse of power this bill enables will happen. Enough is enough.”

The NSWCCL said that the data disruption warrants and account takeover warrants are “crime prevention” tools that resemble something from the science-fiction movie Minority Report.

The powers will apply to a wide range of potential crimes – any carrying at least three years of jail time – not just those referenced by the government in announcing the laws, the submission said.

“This is an extraordinary catch-all encompassing fauna importation, fraud and importantly, such vaguely worded offences as ‘communication and other dealings with inherently harmful information by current and former Commonwealth officers’,” the NSWCCL said.

“These secrecy provisions have already been used to intimidate whistleblowers in several high-profile cases over the last few years. They are framed in a way that prevents vital information regarding government wrongdoing from ever coming to the attention of the public.”

The NSWCLL said that the data disruption warrants, and account takeover warrants, are “crime prevention” tools that resemble something from the science-fiction movie Minority Report.

“We cannot accept a new species of warrant that is based on the notion that the role of law enforcement is to stop possible future offences from being committed where the breadth of their application is so wide,” the NSWCCL said.'

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