Australian Attorney-General’s Department Nicola Roxon has unveiled last week proposals for a massive expansion of intelligence-gathering powers including telephone and internet data retention for up to two years.
The proposals were outlined in a 60-page discussion paper provided for a major national security inquiry by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
If passed intelligence agencies would be given increased access to social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which would be likely achieved by compelling companies to create backdoors to enable surveillance, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international non-profit digital rights advocacy and legal organization.
The discussion paper would increase the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD).
Another proposal under consideration is whether to allow the country’s foreign intelligence services to monitor citizens overseas, if an officer from the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) is not available. Until now, ASIO has been the only agency allowed to collect data on Australian citizens.
According to the Theage.com, if the 40 proposals are passed “they would be the most significant expansion of the Australian intelligence community's powers since the Howard-era reforms following the terrorist attacks of 2001.”
The Federal Government has defended the need for intelligence agencies to have access to the internet and phone records of Australians.
"Unlike the Howard Government, the Gillard Government wants to give the public a say in the development of any new laws, which is why I’m asking the Committee to conduct public hearings," said Roxon in a statement.
"National security legislation is important - but also important is the trust and confidence that Australians have in those laws."
The review will first seek public submissions and will then hold a series of public and classified hearings.
''It will be one of the most controversial inquiries the committee has ever held,'' Theage.com quoted a government official speaking on condition of anonymity.
''Once people get their head around this stuff it will be very interesting to see what their reaction will be. In the UK it has led to some very vocal opinions.''
Green Senator Scott Ludlam for Western Australia said he had grave concerns surveillance powers would become highly invasive and described data retention for up to two years as "extreme."