Sensible discussion in a surveillance state

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Peter Dutton says he wants a sensible discussion about new powers to spy on Australians. So let's have one.

SUNDAY, 16 June 2019, Peter Dutton said he wants a “sensible discussion” about plans to create new powers for government agencies to spy on Australians.

These are the same plans leaked to journalist Annika Smethurst and first published in the Murdoch press in February last year.

The same leaks that prompted the Australian Federal Police to raid Ms Smethurst’s house on 4 June and rummage through her undies drawer for eight or nine hours.

So, despite Dutton saying on ABC Insiders on the weekend it was “nonsense” that the Government has plans to spy on Australians the Government does still have plans to spy on Australians.

Smethurst’s 2018 article revealed senior public servants in Dutton’s own Home Affairs Ministry had discussed with the Defence Department draconian new powers to allow the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to spy on Australian citizens for the first time.

According to Dutton, this is to allow the Government to respond to cyber-attacks and other online threats, such as paedophile networks.

The Minister called for

“… a sensible discussion about whether or not we’ve got the ability to deal with the threats we face.”

So let’s have this sensible discussion, right here and now.

When Dutton says “the threats we face”, it is clear he means the threats his Government faces which may or may not be the same threats we Australians face.

Yes, it is possible the ASD spies may use their newfound powers to track down underground paedophile networks on the dark web, or domestic terrorists planning attacks in encrypted chat rooms. But based on recent events, it seems equally likely they will be using these powers to hunt for whistleblowers who have embarrassed the Government.

Such as the ones who leaked the so-called Afghan Files, which showed alleged atrocities by Australian troops. The same ones the AFP launched raids on the ABC head office to detect the other day. Or indeed, the ones who leaked the files to Smethurst detailing the Government seeking even more powers to spy on its own citizens. Or Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery, who are being tried in secret over their role in exposing Australia’s illegal spying on the Timor Leste government. Or a dozen other examples of the Government’s attempts to shut down scrutiny of its clandestine and potentially corrupt activities.

Because, even though the spooks at the ASD may not have powers to spy on Australians just yet and maybe they feel left out other agencies have a great many powers to do just that. They can tap our phones. They can read our online metadata without a warrant. They can gaol journalists for reporting facts. Indeed, the Federal Police, in raiding the ABC the other day, were permitted to ‘add, copy, delete or alter’ material they found at their discretion. And the list of overreach goes on and on, and on.

There is no doubt that civil rights, such as privacy, have been swept away under the Coalition Government since they came to power in 2013.

At some point we need to say enough is enough. There is a fine line between keeping us safe and running a surveillance state. In the opinion of this publication, this Government stepped over that line some time ago.

It is troubling that, the more Peter Dutton wants the power to know everything about us, the harder he makes it for us to find out what he and his goons are doing.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members only area.

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You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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