Sunday, 06 December 2020 06:07

Surveillance laws to be overahuled after review by former ASIO chief Featured

Surveillance laws to be overahuled after review by former ASIO chief Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

A review of Australia's intelligence agencies has recommended that the law governing the activities of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation should continue to distinguish between foreign intelligence and security intelligence.

The review was handed over to the government in December 2019 and was released on Friday (4 December).

Carried out by former ASIO chief Dennis Richardson and running to 1600 pages, the review has recommended that there should be a distinction between intelligence activities that take place in Australia and outside the country, and also that the laws applying to intelligence agencies should continue to distinguish between Australians and non-Australians.

In 2018, News Corporation newspapers reported that the ASD was looking at extending its surveillance to Australians. In 2019, the Australian Federal Police raided the home of Annika Smethurst, the journalist who wrote the story. The case against her was dropped this year.

On Friday, Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government would accept all, except four, of the 190 recommendations put forward by the review which cost $18 million. Thirteen classified recommendations have also been endorsed.

"The review shows not only do our agencies work tirelessly to keep Australia safe, they are just as focused on making sure they do so within the limits of the law," he said.

"The government will ensure that these agencies continue to have the powers necessary to keep Australians safe against new and emerging threats. They will be backed by the oversight necessary to maintain the trust and confidence of all Australians.

"The government will take forward a number of targeted reforms based on the review and has agreed in full, part or principle to 186 of the 190 unclassified recommendations.

"The government's response to the review lays out a pathway for the evolution, rather than revolution, of Australia's intelligence and security agencies."

Porter said the government would also take forward a number of other notable recommendations, including:

  • a new framework for ASIO's offshore activities in order to strengthen ministerial accountability;
  • streamlining the emergency warrant framework;
  • ensuring that oversight is better embedded into intelligence legislation when it is created, and
  • establishing an independent panel to provide technical expertise and assistance to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

He claimed the review would result in creating "a modernised legislative framework to govern electronic surveillance activities".

"The use of these powers is subject to strict safeguards, independent oversight and a range of transparency and accountability mechanisms. However, the review found that the existing framework has become unnecessarily complex, and in many ways has been outpaced by technology, and requires major reform," he said.

The new framework is intended to replace portions of existing acts that govern electronic surveillance powers, including the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, the Surveillance Devices Act and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act.

The Home Affairs department is expected to consult industry and the public on the new framework.

"The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act was developed in 1979. It has lasted remarkably well, but is no longer fit for purpose in the digital world of the internet, smartphones and end-to-end encryption," Porter said.

"This will be one of the biggest national security legislative projects in recent history – requiring the repeal and rewriting of nearly 1000 pages of laws."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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